Trump: Petulant Puppet of Putin’s Petro-State
December 22, 2016
Malicious software used in a hack against the Democratic National Committee is similar to that used against the Ukrainian military, a computer-security firm has determined, adding evidence to allegations that the hackers who infiltrated the DNC were working for the Russian government.
The malware used in the DNC intrusion was a “variant” of one designed to help locate the position of Ukrainian artillery units over the past two years, the security company, CrowdStrike, said in a report released Thursday. The artillery units were deployed to defend Ukraine following Russia’s invasion of Crimea in 2014.
CrowdStrike concluded that the malware used against the Ukrainian military was designed by a hacker group known to security experts as Fancy Bear. The American security firm said the group works for the Russian military intelligence agency, known as the GRU, and was one of two Russian hacker outfits that stole emails from the DNC earlier this year.
All U.S. intelligence agencies have attributed the hacks against the Democratic committee to hackers working at the direction of senior Russian government officials. CrowdStrike said it has concluded that Fancy Bear and another Russian group, which security experts call “Cozy Bear,” carried out the intrusion.
The larger problem with approaches that treat “Russia,” or “the Kremlin,” or “Putin” as something monolithic and unchangeable over time is just that – neither Russia nor Putin have been unchanged nor monolithic over the 15 years of his rule. Had Russia been a coherent unity, the Soviet Union would never have collapsed to begin with. But the observed inconsistency in the Kremlin’s behavior that realist theories struggle to explain is easily understood if we remember that rather than being “an insecure superpower” Russia is first and foremost a petrostate. Petrostates are empirically shown to become aggressive against their neighbors when oil prices skyrocket. In a study of 153 country cases in the last 50 years, political scientist Cullen Hendrix shows that high oil prices consistently make oil-exporters more aggressive toward their immediate neighbors, while they don’t affect the behavior of non-exporters. On average if the oil price hits a threshold of $77 per barrel in constant 2008 dollars, petrostates get 30 percent more aggressive than non-exporters
Jeff Colgan of Brown University analyzed militarized interstate disputes in 170 countries between 1945 and 2001 and found that countries where net oil export revenues constitute over 10 percent of GDP were among the most violent states in the world. Such petrostates showed a remarkable propensity for militarized interstate disputes on average and engaged in militarized conflicts about 50 percent more often than non-petrostates in the post-World War II era. Examples include Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez expelling their U.S. ambassadors, Venezuela’s mobilization for war against Colombia and Iran backing Hamas attacks against Israel during the 2008 oil price peak. Likewise Iraq’s invasion of Iran in 1980 and Libya’s repeated incursions into Chad also happened during the peaks of the oil prices in the 1970s and 1980s. The mechanism is simple: High oil revenues lower leaders’ domestic political accountability and responsibility for policy decisions while increasing risks of international adventurism. Oil revenues also increase states’ military capability by providing them with larger and more fungible pools of funding for military expenditures.
A batch of stolen emails was released to the public, with evidence pointing towards Russian hackers. The media ran through the formerly private correspondence with a fine-toothed comb, looking for dirt. Although little if any damning information was found, public trust in the hacking victims was severely eroded. The volume of media coverage created the perception that where there’s smoke, there must be fire, and a general presumption of guilt resulted.
The year was 2009, and the victims were climate scientists working for and communicating with the University of East Anglia. The story was repeated in 2016 with the Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee.
After 1,000 of climate scientists’ private emails were stolen and published online, snippets of text were taken out of context and misrepresented to falsely accuse the scientists of scandal, conspiracy, collusion, falsification, and illegal activities. Climate deniers and biased media outlets whipped up such froth over these misrepresentations that various organizations launched nine separate investigations to identify any possible scientific wrongdoing uncovered by the emails. They found none.
For the climate scientists who lived through Climategate, the Wikileaks email scandal crated a sense of déjà vu. In both cases, the Russian petrostate may have been the perpetrator of the illegal email hacks, and emerged as the winner of the faux scandals, while the rest of us lost.
By helping elect Donald Trump, Russia now has a friendly American leadershipreplacing an outgoing administration that sought to punish their invasion of Ukraine and bombing in Syria. Russian operatives covertly interfered with the American election to aid Trump’s campaign, and Americans responded by electing Vladimir Putin’s preferred candidate. Russian agents may also have been behind the Climategate email hack (although the perpetrators were never identified), and again they achieved their intended goal of shaking public trust in their victims, and disrupting the Copenhagen conference.