Collusion: how Russia helped Trump win the White House

September 21, 2018
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Review of Collusion: how Russia helped Trump win the White House, by Luke Harding
When I returned from a teaching assignment in Moscow recently, I found Luke Harding’s book waiting for me.  My visit had taken place as relations between the UK and Russia were at a low ebb.  With hindsight, I am rather glad I had not travelled with Collusion as my reading material.
The author has established himself as a leading investigative journalist.  His success might be measured by two movies made from his earlier books, one on Julian Assange and other on Edward Snowden, two of the great whistle-blowers of our times. His credibility as an informed source is strengthened though his expulsion by the Kremlin for his efforts during his time as foreign correspondent and Moscow bureau chief with The Guardian newspaper.
An unfinished drama
Collusion: how Russia helped Trump win the White House, deals with an unfinished story, the rise and potential fall of the 45th President of the United States. Nearly a year after publication, the broad analysis remains fresh, and a useful piece of reporting of a drama still awaiting its denouement.
In real-life, a ‘did he or didn’t he‘ thriller, is morphing into a ‘will he or won’t get impeached‘ one, as the indefatigable investigator Robert Muller picks off individuals closer and closer to the President who are reluctantly seeking plea bargains to reduce criminal charges. Parallels with Nixon’s Watergate affair are obvious.
The book opens with a visit by Harding to a secretive organisation in the intelligence gathering business, aka private spying services. It was gaining unwanted notoriety for what became known as The Steele Dossier. Harding was there to meet its author, Christopher Steele.  The dossier was at the time allegedly circulating in Russia’s security agency the FSB, a post-Gorbachev  mutation of  the venerable KGB, as well among Western intelligence groups, and the leaky world of international journalism.
The Steele Dossier
The dossier, according to Harding  ‘would in effect accuse President-elect Trump of ..collusion with a foreign  power. That power was Russia. The alleged crime – vehemently denied, contested, and in certain key aspects unprovable – was treason.’
The information collected by Steele attracted wealthy clients, seeking it as possibly damaging to Trump’s campaign. Then the unverified material was published on-line with only minor redactions, days before the new President’s inauguration. The genie was out of the bottle. The dossier assessed the evidence as pointing strongly to a acceptance by Trump’s  closest associates of a flow of intelligence from Russian sources. Furthermore the Russians were believed to have compromising materials including the sexual frolics which become one of the lascivious shorthands for the possible blackmail.
Trump’s reaction introduced a pattern repeated through his presidency. The use of twitter as his communication medium of choice. The rejection of adverse reporting as fake news (or, in its emphatic capitalized form, FAKE NEWS!).
The episode sets the scene for the book. Much of the subsequent material will be familiar for those who have followed the daily docudrama. Familiar, although bewildering in the the large and shifting cast, although the story-line is comfortingly unchanging.
The two narratives 
Throughout the book, I found myself disentangling two narratives. The first is the story assembled from the facts as recorded by the author.  It tells of a President increasingly mired in controversies and attempts to defend the indefensible. The broad thrust of this narrative mostly fleshes out the explosive Steele dossier.
It portrays a blustering and impulsive President, concealing his financial status and dubious personal and commercial activities, quick to dismiss staff, and railing against his enemies.
One of the more egregious firings was of FBI chief James Comey.  He was abruptly fired at a distance. Hearing the news in public, Comey believed it to be a joke at first. Ironically Comey’s firing was a factor in the arrival of special investigator Robert Mueller, who had been Comey’s predecessor at the FBI. Mueller has become Trump’s nemesis, In this narrative, a year after the book was published, he is patiently collecting evidence against a range of Trump’s close associates and family.
The second narrative is a near mirror-image of the first.  It is mostly reactions to developing adverse news stories. The rebuttals come from President Trump and spokespersons. It draws on claims that enemies of the state, are engaged in a malevolent conspiracy to besmirch the President, through the so-called  ‘deep state’.
The enemies are led by Crooked Hillary, the Mainstream Media with the exception of Fox  News, and the despicable Special Investigator.
It is tempting but simplistic to conclude that the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Or, as some commentators have noted, we may have increasingly to accept relativism rather than certainties in a post-truth world.
With the benefits of hindsight
One of the problems of an account of a contemporary political issue, is that events can quickly render conclusions failing to anticipate the twists in the dramatic arc of the story.
Nearly a year on, Harding’s conclusions have stood the test of time.
Mueller has succeeded in  gaining convictions for key aides mentioned as targets in Collusion. Significantly, most tof them have been ‘flipped, (seeking modest sentences in exchange for collaboration with the justice system.) The book ends with criminal charges against Paul Manafort, the most knowledgable of Trump’s aides about the impeachable activities of the President.
Fake News?
I found Collusion a well-researched account, drawing on a wealth of personal investigations by the author.
The drama continues. My suspicion is we will have to await a few important and unexpected twists to this fascinating tale of leadership. Maybe, as Harding comments about the Steele dossier, the alleged crime of collusion is in certain key aspects unprovable.

Is Sepp Blatter a Machiavellian Leader?

May 31, 2015

Sepp Blatter’s contoverial re-election as President of FIFA raises the question of his leadership style

One journalist who has followed his career believes so. In a BBC radio broadcast [29th May, 2015] he related an interview he held in which Blatter had pointed to his ‘poisoned box’ , a filing cabinet of information that would protect him from enemies who attempted to dislodge him.

It brought to my mind the strategies of ‘Comrade Card Index’ Stalin, and the monstrous efforts of other dictatorial regimes to collect information as a matter of self-preservation.

The New Machiavelli?

Other commentators  have borrowed the Machiavellian tag in an attempt to understand Blatter’s success in retaining his high office in FIFA for two decades.

This of itself is not evidence that Blatter is the heir to Machiavelli. After all, Machiavelli was adviser to those in power on survival strategies (rather than being himself one of those who had gained power through following his principles).  Also, for his guile Machiavelli did not succeed in retaining his own position, and suffered lengthy periods of imprisonment as a consequence.

The New Machiavelleans

In the UK, the political advisers to Tony Blair’s leadership were unashamed students of Machiavelli, advocating the practice of a modernized Machiavellian approach to politics.

Tyrants of the boardroom

Perhaps a closer analogy is to those ‘tyrants of the boardroom’ described by Jeff Schubert who likened many powerful business leaders to all-powerful dictators such as Stalin, and Gaddafi

COMMENT [BY PAUL HINKS]

LWD commentator Paul Hinks expresses his own views on the re-appointment of Sepp Blatter

FIFA is now fighting corruption allegations associated with ‘irregularities’ in the award of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar.

Nine Fifa officials and four executives of sports management companies have been arrested on suspicion of receiving bribes totalling $100m (£65m), according to the US Department of Justice.

The Guardian was among the print media reporting on the incident:

“More than a dozen plain-clothed officers descended on the five-star Baur au Lac hotel on Wednesday [May 28th, 2015], where officials had gathered for Fifa’s annual meeting.

The arrests were made on behalf of US authorities, after an FBI investigation that has been under way for at least three years. The US Department of Justice said authorities had charged 14 officials, nine of whom are current or former Fifa executives. Those arrested in Zurich face extradition to the US.

‘They were expected to uphold the rules that keep soccer honest. Instead they corrupted the business of worldwide soccer to serve their interests and enrich themselves,” said the US attorney general, Loretta Lynch, at a news conference in New York. “They did this over and over, year after year, tournament after tournament.’ Events tainted by corruption included the award of the 2010 World Cup to South Africa and the 2011 Fifa presidential election, she said.”

Blatter questioned the timing of the Wednesday’s arrests of current and former FIFA members – suggesting the raids were carried out in order to influence the presidential vote.

Here is a leader struggling for credibility, out of touch with reality and in love with his own image; Narcissism personified.


Sepp Blatter remains a figure of controversy. What gives him leadership power?

December 23, 2014

Sepp Blatter remains a powerful figure as President of the FIFA organisation, resisting attempts to persuade him to step down after mounting allegations of incompetence or worse

FIFA logo

The most recent controversy [December, 2014] concerns the resignation of Michael Garcia, the author of a report into the selection of the venues for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup Finals which FIFA is procrastinating over publishing.

Allegations of vote rigging and bribing

LWD subscriber Paul Hinks noted earlier

There are accusations that the selection of venue for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup Finals were unfair – allegations of vote rigging and bribing were reported by the BBC in 2010 when Russia was awarded the 2018 finals; Forbes are amongst credible sources echoing similar concerns about the successful Qatar 2018 bid.

The selection of Qatar for the 2018 finals appears even more confusing, given that traditionally the World Cup Finals are held in summer – in Qatar the summer temperatures would expose teams to temperatures of more than 40c – even today’s highly conditioned footballers cannot expect to excel for 90 minutes in that heat.

Then there is the deeper analysis of how FIFA are attempting to correct the situation – prompting closer inspection of Sepp Blatter’s tenure as President of the FIFA organisation.

What gives Blatter his leadership power?

I recently redrafted the chapter on power for the next edition of textbook Dilemmas of Leadership. The subject has been studied particularly as a way of understanding prime examples of apparent all-powerful leaders, including tyrannical CEOs and political dictators. The handbook of power remains Machiavelli’s The Prince with its chilling messages of resisting the overthrow of the powerful by their enemies.

What next for FIFA?

The BBC report cited above suggested that Fifa’s image is truly at an all-time low, and that reform can’t occur until there’s a change of leadership. Mr Blatter remains clear that he intends to stand for election in May [2015], and will seek a fifth term of office, at the age of 78.

LWD will continue to monitor the leadership story by updating this post


A tumultuous weekend reveals the leadership morass in the Ukraine

February 24, 2014

I have hesitated in commenting on the vital issue of Ukraine’s leadership dilemmas, as all seems confusion as regime change takes place

[DEVELOPMENTS WILL BE FOLLOWED AS THIS POST IS UPDATED]

Background

A decade ago, in 2004, Viktor Yanukovych, then Prime Minister, was declared the winner of the presidential elections. The results caused a public outcry regarding illegalities. This resulted in the peaceful Orange Revolution, bringing Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko to power, leaving Viktor Yanukovych in opposition. Yanukovych returned to a position of power in 2006, when he became Prime Minister until snap elections in September 2007 made Yushchenko Prime Minister again who fell out with Yulia Tymoshenko who was imprisoned on corruption charges.

Disputes with Russia over natural gas added to the political tensions far beyond Ukraine. Viktor Yanukovych was again elected President in 2010, although again with charges of electoral illegalities.

Ukraine’s leadership morass

In the space of a few days in late February 2014, bloody events in Kiev have left over a hundred fatalities. These were followed by the flight out by President Yanukovych, release from prison of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, and implicit acceptance by the authorities and police of the success of the demonstrators.

As can be observed from afar

As much as can be observed from afar, there is little of the triumphalism that accompanied the events of the Arab Spring of 2011. Perhaps the extended and bloody outcomes in Egypt and elsewhere provide a tempering of the mood of the articulate demonstrators willing to speak to Western journalists.

Not as simple

Nor is the story being offered as a triumphal return of an imprisoned heroine who would advance the process of escape from oppression. After her release from prison, Yulia Tymoshenko’s first public appearance and appeal to the people [23 February 2014] received a mixed reception by the crowds in Kiev. it was hardly the return of the savior, which tends to be one in which rationality is secondary to uncritical acclaim.

East is east?

Nor is it as simple as ‘East is East and West is West’ although the geo-political story of a convenient division marked by the Dneiper has been discussed.

Dilemmas

I seek some understanding by wondering about dilemmas facing the various leaders and their supporters.

President Putin would have wanted time to bask in the un-bloodied success of the Winter Olympics at Sochi before permitting Ukraine to take the global headlines.

Angela Merkel who would like to signal support for a new relationship with the West on behalf of the EC, without provoking unwanted reactions from President Yanukovych.

Deposed President Yanukovych would be considering what options are open to him to return to power, or maybe avoid criminal charges.

Yulia Tymoshenko, is street smart enough to know there is no easy route to power, and also for dealing with some unanswered questions about her own track record of corruption for which she was imprisoned.

Vitali Klitschko, best known as former world heavyweight boxing champion. Now an opposition party leader active in the Kiev demonstrations in which over a hundred people were killed. Charismatic? At least very media savvy. He has to assess who might be his most valued allies. I can’t help thinking of former world chess champion Gary Kasparov, whose political career in Russia remains unfulfilled.

February 24th 2014

Arrest warrent made for former President Yanukovych

February 26th 2014

Liberation or mutiny?

February 28th 2014

The southern province of Crimea becomes potential flashpoint for new regime with pro Russian demonstrations

Tuesday March 3rd 2014

Events have moved swiftly. Deposed President calls for Russian help. Russian troops invade Crimea. US, EC, UN seek revolution fearful of escalation into military conflict. Russian finance markets also in turmoil.

Thursday March 5th 2013

War of words between Obama and Putin over Putin’s actions

Monday March 10th

Western Press reports a lack of clear strategy for Crimea coming from Kiev


Pussy Riot and the Presidency of Russia

October 8, 2012

Pussy Riot, a three-member all-female punk rock band in Russia, recently performed a political protest song in Moscow’s main cathedral. They now face up to seven years in jail

by Vikas Patnaik

The case has divided Russia for the last five months, ever since the women were put behind bars without bail [in March 2012]. There are those who feel the women have been treated too harshly and those who consider their act to be “blasphemous” to the Orthodox Church, which has seen a revival in Russian society since the collapse of the atheistic USSR. The EU has also grown concerned, particularly over the basis and method of pre-trial detention of the band members.

Hooliganism

The women were charged with “hooliganism” for dancing in colourful balaclavas near the altar of the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, and “singing to the Virgin Mary” to rid Russia of Vladimir Putin. In their own defense, Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich stated that their performance was intended to be a protest at Patriarch Kirill’s open support for Putin in the build-up to the March Presidential election, and not to offend adherents of the Orthodox faith. They added that this was “not a trial over Pussy Riot but of the entire Russian political system”.

Mixed Messages from Political Leaders

Western pop icons such as Madonna and Yoko Ono have come out in support of the Pussy Riot cause. A St. Petersburg government official reacted strongly to this, calling it an “imposition of Western values” that should not be allowed. Dmitry Rogozin, a Russian deputy prime minister, went on record tweeting that Madonna was in no position herself to engage in “moral lecturing”.

Interestingly, Vladimir Putin relayed a message of leniency towards the Pussy Riot members, on his recent visit to London for the Olympic Games [but has been more neutral in his comments since: Ed].

Leading Russia out of Resentment

It will be very interesting to see the outcome of this trial, the verdict of which is due 17th August. This may reflect on Putin’s leadership style, given his power and influence, but by virtue of doing so, it could expose what many in Russia are growing concerned over and Putin may be trying to conceal – the alleged links between government, law enforcement and the church. At the same time, Putin must dispel fears that the trial is part of a crackdown on dissent since his return to the Kremlin following the biggest anti-government protests in recent Russian history. Clearly a leadership dilemma of multiple dimensions.

While Putin’s style does not fit classic (mythological) charismatic leadership (Potts 2009), the recent pop hit “A Man Like Putin” notwithstanding, he has been given credit for much of the economic transformation of Russian society (McFaul and Stoner-Weiss 2010). This has not, however, qualified him as a transformational leader of the stature of Gorbachev, and (re)building trust is a priority for him. The complexity of the situation is thus likely to call for strategic – even ethical leadership as espoused by New Leadership theories (Rickards 2012) – rather than a transactional or situational one derived from the dominant rational model (Hersey and Blanchard 1988).

Putin may look to distance himself from the Orthodox Church and support the release of the Pussy Riot members, in an attempt to shake off the long-standing stigma of association between church and state going back to the days of the Tsars and Stalin. Whether moral or Machiavellian, it will attempt to address the best interests of Putin, Pussy Riot and, most importantly, the people of Russia.

References

Summary of story [accessed 11 August 2012].
Hersey, P., and Blanchard, K. (1988). Management of organizational behavior. 4th edition. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
McFaul, M. and Stoner-Weiss, K. (2010). Elections and voters. In: White, S., ed. Developments in Russian politics 7. New York: Palgrave McMillan. 72. ISBN 9780230224490.
Potts, J. (2009). A history of charisma. Basingstoke, Hants: Palgrave Macmillan.
Rickards, T. (2012). Dilemmas of leadership. 2nd edition. London: Routledge.

The author

The author of the post, Vikas Patnaik, is Global Modeling & Analysis Leader at Ingersoll Rand. Apart from applying thermodynamics to the real world, Vik enjoys music, social commentary, philosophy and writing.

Update to follow


Is Vladimir Putin a Transformational or a Charismatic Leader?

December 1, 2011

The question assumes the two categories are ‘either-or’. A better question: are Vlidimir Putin’s behaviours explained better by transformational or charismatic leadership maps?

Beware the ‘Either-or’ question

A quick visit to textbooks of leadership (such as Dilemmas of Leadership) provides ways of answering the questions and explains the difficulties inherent in an ‘either-or’ formulation. One reason is that an either-or perspective overlooks overlooks the key point that in empirical studies, leaders display a full range of styles including transformational and transactional features.

The charismatic leadership map

Charismatic leaders have been mapped from ancient times. The core assumption about them is that they have special skills or gifts so that followers are captivated by them and their ideas.

The transformational leadership map

The transformational map is a modern treatment of leaders (ca 1980s) which acknowledges some features are charismatic. The Transformation leader, as its label implies, transforms the worlds of their followers (which can be local to a team or organization, or global to the leader of a Nation State).

Transformational leaders are assessed most commonly on a scale developed by Bass and Avolio which captures a ‘full range’ of factors including transformational and transactional ones. Transformational leaders mostly require some transactional skills as well.

Other differences

The older maps of charismatic leadership have increasingly been extended to incorporate the ‘dark side’ of charismatic leadership manifest in tyrannical leaders. Transformational leadership has tended to treat tyrannical leaders as a special case. This has produced the so-called ‘Hitler dilemma’ for transformational research.

In part, the difficulty may be seen to require attention to the ‘dark side’ of leaders which is not generally considered.

Putin as a Grand Prix driver

A recent news article from Xinhuanet shows Mr Putin as a Grand Prix driver.

Jeff Schubert’s view

LWD subscriber Jeff Schubert notes

In order to justify his impending return to the presidency, Putin has invoked the cases of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Charles De Gaulle and Helmut Kohl as men who held power for a long time and who have been treated quite well be history – in contrast to Russia’s own Leonid Brezhnev.

Dmitry Peskov, his press secretary has said: “Putin reads all the time, mostly about the history of Russia. He reads memoirs, the memoirs of Russian historical state figures…”

The maps suggest…

If the distinction between transformational and charismatic style holds, a case could be made that Putin fits the older maps of someone who is actively promoted as a charismatic leader more than as the more modern transformational one.

Recent events

Recent events in The Ukraine have brought President Putin into the international spotlight. The western media have tended to mock the assiduous building of his image of the great leader, although with less contempt than in their treatments of North Korea’s incumbent. His decisive military intervention in the Ukrainian crisis has drawn attention to his power to influence world events.

Worth thinking about

Emerging events suggest that Putin is being seen as a modern illustration of The Great Man theory of leadership.. The theory was associated with Thomas Carlyle in the nineteenth century and considers that heroic and rare individuals shape the course of history. The contrary theories suggest that historical situations create powerful leaders. Cometh the hour, cometh the leader…

In many cultures the yearning for a Great Man to emerge and lead the people to greatness or rescue them from danger remains. Students are left to consider why the theory tends to ignore the Great Woman theory of leadership.

Interest in this post increased at the height of the Ukraine crisis [March 2014]. Is someone adding the Lone Ranger style to those attributed to Putin?