Mueller, Putin, Trump, and the Russian ‘adhocracy’

Picture1For some time now I have been pushing the notion that Putin’s Russia is best understood as an ‘adhocracy’, which I define in my ECFR report Controlling Chaos as a system

in which the true elite is defined by service to the needs of the Kremlin rather than any specific institutional or social identity. They may be spies, or diplomats, journalists, politicians, or millionaires; essentially they are all ‘political entrepreneurs’ who both seek to serve the Kremlin or are required to do so, often regardless of their formal role.

The activities of the ‘adhocrats,’ and those of the myriad lesser ‘political entrepreneurs‘ who aspire to that role, are occasionally directly tasked by the Kremlin, sometimes indirectly tasked through hints, nods and winks, and often their own initiatives, acting in ways that they hope will please the boss(es). I talk about this system more fully in my new book, We Need To Talk About Putin.

In this context, an initial quick skim of the ‘Mueller Report’ is gratifyingly supportive of this notion. Of course, the report does highlight cases of clear, direct, Russian government action, notably the GRU’s hack-and-leak operation. Far more frequent, though, are indications of a Kremlin that not only did not want or expect Trump to become president (in my opinion the Russians were convinced Clinton would win and were simply trying to disrupt her assumed presidency, fearing she would embark upon a concerted campaign against them), was if anything worried about its lack of traction with the campaign, and relied on the actions of sundry political entrepreneurs.

Consider, for example, what Petr Aven, head of Alfa-Bank, said:

Screenshot 2019-04-19 at 08.29.16

Screenshot 2019-04-19 at 08.32.20

Later

Screenshot 2019-04-19 at 08.37.21

In other words, the Kremlin was disconnected from the campaign, and felt that this was a concern. Figures such as Aven saw this as both a threat to their own interests, and also an implicit instruction from the Kremlin, and acted accordingly.

So all kinds of different actors set out to use whatever opportunities they had to try and open lines of communication, from the lawyer Veselnitskaya, through to Russian Direct Investment Fund CEO Kirill Dmitriev:

Screenshot 2019-04-19 at 08.35.14

But here’s the thing: not only was it in the direct interests of these individuals to try and build bridges with presidential contender and then the transition team of the president elect, it was also entirely normal. All kinds of countries, businesses and interests were doing the same, from the Saudis and Emiratis to Marine Le Pen. If anything, the evidence of the report – and of subsequent developments, in which once one strips away Trump’s bizarrely enthusiastic rhetoric about Putin, one can see that US policy towards Russia is tougher than at any point since 1991 – is of a Kremlin as bewildered by the prospect of the new presidency as anyone else, and thus interested to see if any of its adhocrats could get a meaningful line into the campaign and transition teams. And, despite various meetings and overtures, the answer is that they did not.

So, please, put away those onion-dome-on-the-White-House graphics, abandon those excitable claims of Trump as a Russian agent and the Trump Tower Moscow project as anything but the overheated hype and hopes of some grifters who didn’t understand how modern Russia works. Trump and his circle can be damned in all kinds of ways, from obstruction of justice to incompetence. But this is an American story and sin, not a Russian import.

 

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5 Comments

  1. I find it a bit hard to believe that neither professional nor sub-professional efforts to get the line into the incoming and then new administration have been completely unsuccessful. From reading the report it’s clear that professionals have dangled quite a few tasty bits in front of Trump’s retinue members. Were the tastes guessed wrong? Or the bits weren’t choice enough to attract bigger fish?

    Reply
    • Mark Galeotti

       /  April 19, 2019

      Did individuals sometimes bite? Sure. But the point is that nothing has yet emerged to suggest anything that came to anything. Again, let me stress that everyone was trying to get lines into the incoming admin, not just the Russians, and in some ways this became harder because (a) Russia was even then more than a little politically radioactive, (2) there was no clear and viable ambition beyond making contact and (c) the team was in some ways a harder target because of its very cluelessness and lack of real structure

      Reply
  2. Your insights are intriguing but I can’t help but wonder if a great deal of the back and forth between the Russians and the Trump people is a deliberate ploy of the Russians, one where they can say: “See, this is what happens when you screw around with Russia! Play ball with us and it wouldn’t be happening!” Except with Russia, whether you play ball or not, it always happens.

    Reply
  3. Mark Pillow

     /  April 20, 2019

    thanks. I NEEDED THAT. A reasonable explanation of events and the motives behind them. It isn’t always about Trump after-all.

    Reply

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