April 18, 2024



The world is awash with Kremlin disinformation and undercover operations aimed at undermining democracies, societies, and war efforts. This month, revelations about a gigantic espionage ring across Europe rocked the continent, but Russia also cripples the United States. Donald Trump and his chief Republican spear carrier, Marjorie Taylor Greene, are active “assets” for Russia and constantly spew its talking points. Trump enables and praises the enemy, describing Putin’s Ukrainian 2022 invasion as “genius”, suggesting that Ukraine should surrender, and pledging that he will let Putin do “whatever the hell he wants” to NATO members in Europe if they are behind in military commitments. This month, Trump demanded his party impose restrictions on the counter-espionage FISA Act which oversees the surveillance and collection of all foreign intelligence on domestic soil to protect the homeland. Republicans failed to dismantle it this month, but intend to even though that would be “crazy and reckless,” according to Trump’s former Attorney General Bill Barr. “It’s our principle tool protecting us from terrorist attacks.”

Marjorie Taylor Greene believes in far-right conspiracies and is, to most observers, not the brightest penny in the Republican wallet. However, she is street smart and has parlayed wacko beliefs into political power. In the past, she touted “Jewish space laser conspiracies” and even spread falsehoods about mass school shootings. Recently, she remarked that black people in the Deep South should be proud of monuments dedicated to Southern armies who defended slavery in the civil war. Like Trump, she’s a tone-deaf punchline, but a force to be reckoned with. She is a member of important Congressional committees. She influences policies and has held Republican House leader Mike Johnson hostage for weeks concerning Ukrainian aid and FISA.

However, her ignorance recently backfired, concerning aid to Ukraine, and will help it be approved. She upset Republican evangelicals by claiming incorrectly that “the Ukrainian government is attacking Christians and executing priests. Russia is not doing that. They [Russians] are not attacking Christianity. As a matter of fact they seem to be protecting it.”

The facts are that Russia has attacked, looted, or destroyed 660 churches and religious sites across Ukraine. Putin manipulates the Russian Orthodox Church, and is a personal friend of its leader, Patriarch Kirill, who is not a cleric but a billionaire oligarch who owns palaces, yachts, and private jets. Kirill publicly condoned the Ukrainian genocide and blesses troops en route to the front, but has been castigated by the head of the global Orthodox Church for supporting slaughter, as well as by the World Council of Churches. Last week, the influential Southern Baptist Church wrote to Mike Johnson urging that he support Ukraine because protestant churches have also been attacked by Russia. “As you consider efforts to support Ukraine, we humbly ask that you consider the plight of Christians,” wrote the leaders. “The Russian government’s decision to invade Ukraine and to target Baptists and other evangelical Christians in Ukraine, has been a tragic hallmark of the war.”

It’s appalling that Greene, and other Republicans, spew inaccuracies, given their access to intelligence reports and briefings. Such recklessness led Colorado Republican House Representative Ken Buck, a former prosecutor, to quit his seat in March. He nicknamed Greene “Moscow Marjorie” and said that her fictional claim that Ukraine is executing priests and fighting to spread a “woke” agenda comes straight from the Kremlin. He said: “Russian troll factories are giving Greene’s Republicans their talking points.”

Unfortunately, the pro-Russia Trump faction controls seven Republican governors, 18 senators, and more than 90 House members, including the speaker of the House. And Greene’s rhetoric has become crazier. She recently proclaimed that all “Ukrainians are Nazis”; American aid in Ukraine goes to “possible Nazi militias that are torturing innocent people, especially women and children”, and Zelensky was “torturing his own people”. When assailed about such errors, she glibly spouts back Trump-speak and says the “fake news media continue to defame me as Pro-Putin and Pro-Russia”.

Not surprisingly, she is the darling of commentators on Russian state TV. One recently suggested she should replace Trump as the GOP candidate in the 2024 presidential election because Americans “are tired of both Trump and Biden”. Such endorsements hoist her status inside her circle, but the notion that she could be a head of state is lunacy given her mentality and deportment. For example, she responded to an appeal for Ukrainian support made in Congress by British foreign secretary David Cameron by simply saying “kiss my ass”.

She is now joined by Senator J.D. Vance, author of “Hillbilly Elegy” and another MAGA mouthpiece. On April 12, The New York Times published his unjustifiably negative, and biased, argument against giving Ukraine any more help in fighting Russia. While some write all this off as simply cynical politics, former National Security advisor to Trump John Bolton says it’s playing with fire. “If Trump is elected, there will be celebrations in the Kremlin. There’s no doubt about it, because Putin thinks that he is an easy mark.”

The question is how did the party of Ronald “Evil Empire” Reagan become corrupted by the Kremlin? Bribery and blackmail are involved but so are charm offensives. There’s little doubt that Trump’s profitable partnerships and mass condo sales involving Russians influenced his thinking. The same applies to his donors. And to those, who question the Kremlin’s reach, consider that in 2016 Trump handpicked Paul Manafort to run his campaign — a man who had been on Putin’s payroll for years to groom a thug named Viktor Yanukovych to take over Ukraine in 2010. Four years later, Yanukovych fled after Ukrainians took to the streets and overthrew his rotten regime. Estimates are that Yanukovych’s “mafia” stole $100 billion from Ukraine, and, more importantly, gutted Ukraine’s large military and sold its weapons for personal gain, in order to pave the way for the Russian invasion that is now before us.

For decades, Russian spies and oligarchs have embedded themselves across America and Europe. They bought sports franchises and threw lavish parties in London, Berlin, and Washington. They made donations to think tanks and universities and the arts, then courted politicians and officials. Most successful was aluminum magnate, Oleg Deripaska, who had Senators and officials on speed-dial and bought influence by strategically investing. For instance,

he sunk tens of millions of dollars into Kentucky, the depressed region represented by powerful Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. He socialized with Jared and Ivanka, as well as with Britain’s Royals and Silicon Valley’s elite. So did scores of other Russian oligarchs.

By these and other means, Moscow has insinuated itself into the national conversations of all of its foes. In the US, it targeted the American business elite, the Republican Party, America’s right-wing organizations, its gun lobby, NGOs, PACs, and key politicians. Funds or favors were transmitted through proxies, intermediaries, numbered companies, or “surrogates” for years. In Europe, as has just come to light, its political and security systems have been compromised by a Russian spy network.

Occasionally, there are glimpses of this corruption in high places but these are quickly dismissed. For instance, House Speaker Mike Johnson now holds Ukraine’s future in his hands even though he and other Louisiana Republicans received campaign funds, allegedly in small amounts, from entities controlled by Konstantin Nikolaev, a ranking member of Putin’s inner circle and the major munitions supplier to the Russian armed forces. The money was returned immediately after newspapers reported it, but there’s little doubt that the Kremlin still bribes or blackmails whoever it wants, by whatever means required, all over the world.

“Mike Johnson and Marjorie Taylor Greene actively spout his [Putin’s] talking points,” said Russian expert and sanctions champion Bill Browder in a television interview. “He [Putin] needs Hungary [Orban] to block European funding [for Ukraine] and Mike Johnson to block US funding.” Now Putin’s Republicans have taken on the task of making America more vulnerable to espionage and terrorism by defanging FISA.

Warnings fall on deaf ears, but democracies must ruthlessly audit the assets, relationships, and finances of their elected and unelected public officials, their families, and organizations. Whistleblowers must be offered fortunes to turn in traitors. All political donations, and donor identities, must be limited, fully transparent, and screened. The attack on FISA in the US must be stopped immediately to protect national security.

Russian influences have penetrated the highest levels of power in two of the world’s biggest democratic regions (the US and EU). In 2020, Nancy Pelosi pointed out that “with him [Trump] all roads lead to Putin”. More recently, former Republican Senator and Presidential candidate Mitt Romney described his party’s support for Russia “almost treasonous” and later confessed that “it makes me ill” before he announced he will leave politics this year.

Hopefully, it’s not too late for Ukraine and the world’s democracies.