RISI – US election interference and Ukrainian planningApril 20, 2017
It is not often this blog commits to prose about Russia. The author writes elsewhere when it comes to Russia keeping the content here by and large entirely Ukraine-centric.
However, a recent article by Reuters relating to the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies (RISS or RISI) is worthy of comment simply for no other reason than it caused a wry smile.
Currently RISI is certainly not what it was prior to 2009 when this think tank was then taken under the control of the Presidential Administration of the Russian Federation.
Naturally any facade of independence that may have previously existed thus ended.
The appointment of “retired” SVR Lieutenant General Leonid Reshetnikov as RISI Director, together with an officially slight change of scope from providing “information and analytical support to the relevant government authorities” to also include “ideological and propaganda” coincided.
The dice therefore cast when placing a former senior spook who had previously headed departments that had looked after information and analysis in Yugoslavia, Greece and Bulgaria. The direction of RISI would take on a far more subversive nature, and its output/analysis far less analytical and far more ideological and propaganda sensitive.
That is not to say that the leadership of Leonid Reshetnikov produced much of anything of use to The Kremlin relating to RISI output. Indeed those that have long rubbed up against or have even a modicum of knowledge relating to RISI and its internal workings watched as RISI became a subject of ridicule within think tank and academic circles both within and without Russia.
Mr Reshetnikov is a “White Russian” (just as Mr Putin is). He is also an ex-spook (just as Mr Putin is). But Mr Reshetnikov is also a very/ultra conservative Orthodox follower (in which Mr Putin fails to convince). Indeed Mr Putin whilst allowing a conclave of swivel-eyed ultra Orthodoxy in and surrounding the Kremlin hierarchical organagram seems very happy to distance himself using his personal priest Archimandrite Tikhon Shevkunov as postman to the Church and also this swivel-eyed conclave.
Leonid Reshetnikov is also one of those behind Katehon, where donning a tin foil hat is a pre-requisite before clicking the link.
But what to do if you are an employee of RISI under Mr Reshetnikov? It is not necessarily a distinction to be grateful for. Do you throw your academic name into the rubbish basket or hope that if remaining your peers will understand that such jobs are not easy to find and that morality does not feed a family?
Some employees did leave by choice (or otherwise). Others grew beards and placed religious icons about the institution adopting the mantra of White Russia, orthodoxy and empire.
One of the first tasks set was to address historical falsification by the Soviets against White Russia. Whatever historical falsification there may have been, clearly a distinct move from analysis and toward ideology and propaganda for, primarily, internal consumption.
Meanwhile new appointments were made via the usual cronyism that qualifies as the system. Ability coming a distant second to loyalty.
Tamara Guzenkova was put in charge of matters Ukrainian – based upon cronyism networks and a spattering of a dozen or so Ukrainian language phrases.
Naturally within a now coercive and cancerous environment the starting point for any RISI “analysis” was that there was no such thing as the Ukrainian State, the Ukrainian language was an Austrian-Polish construct designed to undermine Russia and Russian historically, and if there was anything Ukrainian is was the Galacia region – which was really Polish and therefore after a little further thought, there was nothing genuinely Ukrainian of provenance. A solid base for Ukrainian analysis apparently.
She was joined by Mikhail Smolin which enhanced the anti-western narrative of western support for homosexuality and other spiritual “blasphemies” and also added a splash of antisemitism and conspiracy for good measure.
By now a reader will have arrived at the conclusion anything emitted from RISI under the leadership of Leonid Reshetnikov was struggling to wear the label of analysis with any comfort. Needless to say those within and without Russia familiar with RISI had begun to subject it to rightful ridicule.
Naturally RISI submitted analysis to The Kremlin regarding Ukraine which was rather easy under former President Yanukovych, for he could be bought and paid for and thus “one of theirs”. Easy analysis that is until Autumn/Winter 2013 when “EuroMaidan”/”Revolution of Dignity” took hold.
All that previous RISI “analysis” and propaganda passing as analysis that stated snuggling up to Europe would be a disaster for Ukraine economically and culturally now called into question. Ms Guzenkova as “Head of Ukraine” within RISI, adopted a perhaps reasonable position from a Russian point of view when it came to protecting its interests – squeeze Ukraine and President Yanukovych economically.
To be blunt, who knows whether her “analysis” was even read by the Kremlin, for such use of economic Statecraft was hardly an unknown lever within the Putin Kremlin. That being so, it seems rather unlikely that the RISI analysis played much of a role – at best perhaps filed under “supporting arguments” for a decision that had already been made.
What is clear is that RISI analysis did not foresee the possibility of “EuroMaidan”/”Revolution of Dignity” – leaving it to fall back upon the usual boilerplate of CIA machinations behind events. Needless to say that previous analysis expressing the belief that Ukraine was not a State and that Ukrainians would not stand for Ukraine proved to be more than a little flawed. Once again however, just what weight if any The Kremlin placed on such analysis when illegally annexing Crimea and starting its war with Ukraine is unknown. Decisions within The Kremlin had already begun to be made by an ever decreasing circle.
And so to the US elections and the RISI plan/analysis designed to interfere – which will have been the last RISI effort under the leadership Leonid Reshetnikov who then left (encouraged to resign) in December 2016.
Given that such analysis and plan exist, yet considering the standard of “analysis” that continually spiraled downward during the leadership of Leonid Reshetnikov between 2009 and 2016,( to the point where very few took RISI seriously as a center of analysis), it must surely raise the question of whether whatever it produced would/could or perhaps even maybe have been of any use whatsoever.
In response to the Reuters article, and to paraphrase a statement by the current Director of RISI, former Prime Minister Mikhail Fradov, himself the spook Chief of the SVR until taking over at RISI, such claims are beyond the abilities of RISI and such fantasies are not commensurate with the realities.
Something of a half-truth (or less than half, perhaps 20% truth).
Many familiar with RISI under Leonid Reshetnikov may well arrive at the conclusion that it was well within the abilities of RISI to arrive at a plan, based on its analysis, to affect the US elections. What is far more open to debate among those that know RISI will be the question of the quality of such analysis and the use, if any, that it would have been to those implementing any such plan (if it was read by any decision makers at all before or after decisions had been made).
It may well be that under Mr Fradov and his on-going restructuring within RISI (or attempts to undo some of the damage caused by his predecessor) it may yet produce that which will better its current academic/think tank image – even if limited to its image when it comes to analytical output.
It goes without saying that is not about to gain an image of independent think tank whilst ever it remains under the control of the Presidential Administration and a succession of senior SVR spooks are appointed Director.
In summary however, a reader is left to ponder what influence – if any – RISI under Leonid Reshetnikov had upon Kremlin decision making given its woeful image within Russia and beyond during his tenure, and whether anything produced could actually have been of any use.