Kyiv Post | 21Mar2018 | Oksana Bashuk Hepburn

America -- Putin’s oligarchy in the making?

Russia’s meddling in other countries’ politics is an invasion. President Vladimir Putin first penetrated Ukraine politically then invaded militarily. It took a revolution to thwart him. He’s retaliating with murder, annexation and war.

There are lessons here for other countries, especially the United States where Russia has penetrated further than most would have imagined.

The most provocative has been the attack on the presidential elections. President Putin determined that once he has the top man the rest of America is his. It troubles, therefore, that Russia’s media now boasts openly that President Donald Trump is “nash”, ours.

In 2010 Ukraine, Putin’s choice for “ours” was ridiculous. Yet, the uneducated, small-time hood, Victor Yanukovych, became president. Paul Manafort used America’s know-how to squeeze him into office, then he did the same for the equally ridiculous choice: Donald Trump.

As Putin’s puppet, Yanukovych was ordered to dismantle the democratization efforts of his predecessor. The judicial, legislative and executive arms of government lost their independence. They obeyed Yanukovych while he, and his circle of oligarchs, obeyed the Kremlin boss.

Oligarchs are politicians or state officials who profit personally from political power. Oligarchy is the rule of the few bad men exercising political power unjustly, said Aristotle. Unstopped oligarchies become dictatorships with presidents for life.

Oligarchs use politics to enrich themselves. Following Russia’s lead, the lines between business and politics in Ukraine were erased. Covered by immunity from prosecution, oligarchs seized national assets and raid non-oligarch businesses. Nepotism was rampant; their astronomical wealth untaxed. Laws were corrupted and enforced on critics. They became the enemies in their own country maligned as “criminals, terrorists or Nazis”. They were prosecuted on fake charges, mocked, fired from jobs, attacked, jailed -- including the key Yanukovych opponent in the elections -- or died under suspicious circumstances.

Russia’s key oligarch has gone beyond enriching himself. As commander-in-chief President Putin has ordered the killing of some half million people in Syria and Ukraine, obliterated Chechnya and Donbas, and invaded Georgia and Crimea. He orchestrated questionable deaths of scores of journalists and critics, and eliminated real political opposition. The handful of fake candidates at last week’s election were there to ensure his 4th term as president. Now there’s talk of constitutional change to make him the vozhd -- chief -- for life.

President Putin means to expand his mafia-like empire globally. However, two things stand in his way: the economic sanctions slapped on Russia for annexing Ukraine’s Crimea and invading Donbas. And America’s global leadership.

That leadership is in trouble. The penetration of America’s elections announced that Russia’s president can insert his will on America domestically and attack its global leadership. During the Republican Party’s policy forum, his on-the-ground assets removed the statements supporting economic sanctions against Russia; a direct hit on foreign policy. He succeeded by nixing Mitt Romney as Secretary of State. His devotion to tweeting “no collusion with Russia” only belies the near-daily exposures of Russia’s presence in the Trump entourage. Now, dismissing advice, he congratulates Russia’s president on a sham election supporting a dictator rather than America’s ideals.

Perhaps most troubling is President Trump’s refusal to address how he will “protect and defend” the Constitution against this new form of warfare: political penetration. While Russia election billboards proclaimed “We elected Trump. Now we elect Putin!” America may be in trouble at home and abroad.

Instead, of circling the wagons and remedying the problem, Republicans have become enablers of Trump's servility to Putin. They have chosen self-interest rather than that of America. In his time, Yanukovych and his oligarchs did the same thing.

The Republican’s one-sided report of the House Intelligence Committee investigation finding that “that there was no collusion with the Russians in the presidential elections” underscores this point. As does the Attorney General’s firing of the FBI deputy director.

Recently, Russia’s spy agencies heads -- on the sanctions list -- came to Washington on a hush-hush “visit”: there was little disclosure. What were the Russians sniffing out? Were they advocating other pro-Russia policies? Proposing names for the top jobs in the White House, the cabinet and in the upper rungs of America’s foreign service, homeland security, and intelligence? How to deal with special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation? Certainly, there’s been a dramatic shift on President Trump’s part regarding North Korea. And heads are rolling in the White House and in the government.

News of Russia’s penetration into America surfaces daily thanks to the still free media. Even these sensations may just be the tip of the iceberg as Putin boasts that “Russia cannot be held back on any endeavor anywhere”.

It took the Revolution of Dignity and an ongoing war to seize Ukraine from the jaws of Russia. Are American’s waiting until things get that bad?

Oksana Bashuk Hepburn writes on international political matters.