No More Money For You

(This piece originally appeared on Russia Beyond the Headlines)

A few weeks ago, Rand Paul – the newly-minted Republican senator from Kentucky, a darling of the Tea Party Movement, and the son of the prominent libertarian congressman Ron Paul – did what no American politician in his right mind would dare of doing: he called for the end of American financial aid to Israel.  Paul argued that faced with mushrooming budget deficits and the nation’s debt, the United States simply can’t afford paying $3 billion a year to a country boasting the 28th highest per capita GDP in the world.  “Should we be giving free money…to a wealthy nation?” asked Paul.  “I don‘t think so.”  

There will be no real consequence to Paul’s initiative (except that it may well cost him re-election) since the all-powerful pro-Israel lobby would never let financial help to Israel stop or even decrease.  However, Paul’s escapade reflects the new mood of fiscal austerity that has set in on Capitol Hill following the last year’s congressional elections.  A small army of freshman Republicans, inspired by the Tea Party, descended on Washington with one overriding goal in mind: to reduce the U.S. federal debt (currently approaching $15 trillion) by mercilessly cutting government spending.  To them, the money that the United States spends outside its borders seemed one of the most obvious targets.  As a result, Congress is now planning to reduce by at least $16 billion the amount of money the United States allocates for foreign aid.  Affected by these cuts will be $70 million in annual spending that go to support NGOs and human rights organizations in Russia.   

While sending shock waves through Russia’s human rights community, this turn of events is likely to let quite a few folks in Moscow nod in approval.  They will interpret the decision to cut the “democracy promotion” assistance to Russia as a sign of a “new realism” in Washington, a proof of America’s diminished interest in Russian domestic affairs.  (It may even give a new life to the once popular argument in Russia that the Republicans are “better” than Democrats for U.S.-Russia relations, a notion that was so violently shattered by the eight years of the George W. Bush administration.)

In fact, the idea that the new composition of the U.S. Congress will make it less attentive – and, by virtue of this, less hostile – to Russia has little ground in reality.  True, the new Republican members of Congress are as ignorant and inexperienced in international affairs as they are passionate for “small government.”  The problem is that when it comes to foreign policy decisions, including Russia-related ones, they are not going to abstain.  Instead, they will delegate the decision-making to the “old guard” of congressional veterans, many of whom received their foreign policy training during the heyday of the Cold War.

Take, for example, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the new chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.  Ros-Lehtinen doesn’t even try to hide her disdain for the Obama administration’s policy of “reset” with Russia.  She opposed the ratification of the New START treaty and called the civil nuclear cooperation agreement between Russia and the United States (the “123 Agreement”) a mistake.  Granted, Ros-Lehtinen's position doesn’t allow her to affect the U.S. policy toward Russia directly, yet by the virtue of her ability to hold committee hearings (usually featuring rabid critics of the Kremlin as invited guests), she does have the potential to seriously poison the newly acquired positive tone in U.S.-Russia relations. 

In the Senate, Ros-Lehtinen finds her mate in John McCain who is rapidly becoming a restless advocate of a tough approach vis-à-vis Russia.  Barely a month comes by without McCain making yet another anti-Russian statement.  Back in December, he gave a speech in which he questioned the very utility of dealing “with the current Russian government."  (McCain obviously voted against the ratification of New Start.)  Just a few weeks ago, McCain used his address at the annual Munich Security Conference to blast Russia for what he called “the illegal occupation of internationally recognized sovereign territory of Georgia.

What complicates the efforts of the Obama administration to defend its Russia policy from Ros-Lehtinen, McCain and the like is the lack of an effective pro-Russian lobby in the United States.  So far, the Russian government has shown no interest in hiring professional lobbyists to represent its interests in Washington, a practice routinely employed by about 100 foreign countries from around the world.  Too bad.  Russia finally needs to realize that many past and present issues complicating its relations with the U.S. – the difficulty with the ratification of New START; the opposition to the 123 Agreement; the Jackson-Vanik amendment; the negative image of Russia in the American mass media – don’t arise by accident.  Instead, they are purposely created by the powerful anti-Russian interests in the U.S.  The best way to neutralize these harmful activities is to have its own, functioning pro-Russian lobby.

By calling to end the financial aid to Israel, Senator Paul might have committed the deadliest, perhaps even fatal, mistake of his young political career.  In contrast, Ros-Lehtinen and McCain have no reason to worry – regardless of what they say about or do against Russia.     



About Eugene Ivanov

Eugene Ivanov is a PMI-certified Innovation Management Consultant who helps organizations increase the efficiency of their internal and external innovation programs.
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11 Responses to No More Money For You

  1. Hi Eugene:
    Contrary to what some believe, I sense there’s a concern among some of the Russian top brass at how Russia is perceived abroad. The ongoing issue remains how to best proceed. These thoughts offer a possible partial (stress partial) explanation for the recent honor given to Mikhail Gorbachev. Among some pro-Putin leaning folks, there has been expressed opposition to that move. (Personally, I sense that I’m a bit more sympathetic to Gorbachev than some others.)
    The best possible PR doesn’t always involve professional PR people lacking a knowledge of the subject that they get contracted to represent ( ). PR has been viewed as a form of propaganda. “Russian propaganda” RT appears at times to wrestle between trying to be like English language mass media and offering something different and substantive.
    A recent example pertains to the coverage on Luke Harding (who if I’m not mistaken has been given clearance to stay in Russia):
    From a “propaganda” and well meaning approach, RT should be all over the Canadian government, which leads to my soap box:
    The Scandal in Vancouver
    The Banning of Dr. Trifkovic
    The matter of who screams the loudest while establishing the greater elitny political clout has corrupted portions of government, mass media and academia.
    Regarding the travel ban against Dr. Srdja Trifkovic, the Canadian government appears to haven’t responded to the valid opposition against its stance. On this issue, it would be appropriate for the Canadian government to review and revise its position.
    Ideally, they:
    – should investigate and consider reprimanding the official credited with making an overly subjective and politically idiotic remark about Vojislav Kostunica – in a situation where such a remark was inappropriate (see )
    – apologize to Dr. Trifkovic
    – allow him to travel to Canada.
    Canada has some bright folks. The aforementioned travel ban initiated by the Canadian government encourages raising a nation of hacks and idiots over intellects.
    Such an action sends an indirect message on what kind of views are more tolerated in academic, government and media circles. The end result is hack outfits like the Bosnian Muslim nationalist org. in question having their way with spewing misinformation.
    A truly functioning democracy has institutes which nurture a relatively objective flow of views on political issues. By its action, the Canadian government isn’t in a particularly good position to lecture others including Russia.
    In closing, I think it’s worthy for RT to do (as it did) a half hour show on global anti-Jewish sentiment. Likewise, there should be such a show on anti-Russian biases. Moreover, things stand to be improved by bringing in competent contributors who’ve yet to be utilized.

  2. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Thanks Mike,
    First of all, I share your opinion that what happened to Dr. Trifkovic is a shame, and I applaud your efforts to disseminate this point of view.
    As to other great points you’re raising, we discussed some of them in the past. Again, I agree with you that many among top Russian elites (including, I suspect, President Medvedev) care about Russia’a image abroad. And I again with you that awarding Gorbachev with the top state award was a right thing to do. (And I don’t think that Medvedev did it against his personal feelings).
    Yet, I keep insisting that it’s the initiative from the Russian government to start systematically lobbying its interests in the US that is mostly needed. To me this is a crystallization point of sorts, after which many other things will hopefully fall in line.
    Best Regards,

  3. Alexei Cemirtan says:

    Wasn’t there a law or something, which actually prohibited pro-Russian lobbying in America? As far as I can remember it was introduced during the Cold War against the Soviet Union, so was it repealed or does it still apply to Russia today?

  4. Eugene Ivanov says:

    Dear Alexei,
    Never heard about that. There is the FARA legislation regulating lobbying activities in the US, but there is obviously nothing specifically about Russia there. Besides, large Russian companies with the presence in the US — Lukoil, Gazprom, Severstal — all do lobbying actively and successfully. It’s the Russian government that isn’t involved.
    Best Regards,

  5. Mark says:

    Several well-established media sites, including the New York Times, offered the opinion that the activities of Anna Chapman and her less-glamorous associates had more in common with lobbying than anything else. None of them passed – or saw, evidently – any classified information, and all restricted their attempts to make contact to businessmen and politicians sitting on Senate/Congressional committees. Sure sounds like lobbying to me.
    And yet. Venomous russophobic media like LR quickly labeled them “a nest of spies” and “a spy ring”. Other sources that could normally be expected to do a bit of background research before jumping to conclusions proved happy to jump to conclusions.
    Which raises a couple of questions: first, was this an attempt to establish a Russian lobbying base? If so, in hindsight, it was a mistake for some to use assumed names. Considering the explosive spread of the “spy” story, even if they were only lobbyists, Russia probably perceived that such a defense would be brushed aside as “pathetic lies” by the aforementioned community, and did not attempt it. Second, if Russia did attempt to set up a lobbying community in the U.S., how likely is it that every attempt members made to establish a covert relationship would be seized upon as evidence of espionage, resulting in deportation and a big stink in the newspapers? Given the success of windbags like John McCain in establishing the Russian-as-sneaky-spy meme, and the fact that Chapman and her fellow Russians were charged with failure to register as agents of a foreign government, I’d say the ability of Russians to operate covertly as lobbyists in the U.S. would be restricted at best. If you have to do everything right out in the open in order to prove you’re not a spy, it somewhat negates your value as a lobbyist, doesn’t it?
    No country so aggressively spies on the USA – and so vigorously pursues subversion of policies it doesn’t like – to anything like the extent Israel does. That’s not prejudice, because I don’t care: it’s not my problem. But nobody makes the connection between Israeli lobbying and spying. Whenever an outraged government department tries to get a Jonathan Pollard or a Stephen Bryen indicted, the rest of the U.S. government closes ranks in his defense.

  6. Greatly appreciate your follow-up comments Eugene.
    Concerning our prior discussions, I again note the importance of having an effective lobbying clout, which involves a thorough understanding of the existing status quo and how to best reply with substantive responses.
    My point in bringing up Harding and Trifkovic is to hit home on how certain issues get greater play. Agenda setting seems like a good description of this particular.
    The banning of Trifkovic touches on how some don’t seek to have certain dubious views challenged. Here’s a great reply to an academic favoring censorship:
    As far as Russia’s image in the English language, there’s a good deal which remains to be improved upon. The lack of critical review to much of the status quo relates to the matter of improvement.
    “State news agency” RIA Novosti has a show which had on an openDemocracy (oD) editor, who was given kid gloves treatment. This included host Andrei Zolotov characterizing oD as a respectable London based internet magazine. Via input on my part, I note Mark Chapman and Leos Tomicek taking on some of the questionable pieces put out by oD.
    The biased oD venue included a flawed article (will deconstruct upon request) which hyperlinked Alexander Nevsky’s name to an anti-Nevsky La Russophobe hack job. If I’m not mistaken, Zolotov is a Russian Orthodox Christian. Nevsky is recognized as a saint in the ROC-MP. I recall a NYT op-ed of Zolotov’s where he suggests a kind of earnest journalistic advocacy on his part for not bowing to any Russian government criticism of Russia Profile. Pardon me for expecting such an advocacy to include confronting oD with contructive criticism and encouraging suppressed and valid sources to become involved or more involved at the higher profile of venues.
    So there’s no misunderstanding: my views at Eugene’s blog are mine and not necessarily those of others.

  7. Eugene says:

    Hi Mark,
    First of all, I think that Anya Chapman could have been a hell of a lobbyist. Just imagine how stronger Russia’s position would have been — during the New START ratification, for example, — had she not been expelled, but instead allowed to talk to Sen. Kyl. (And one could only dream of her being an intern in Bill Clinton’s White House.)
    By speaking seriously of a lady who’s going to be a member of the next Duma, I don’t consider her a bona fide lobbyist. (Well, sure, one has to define “lobbyism” the same rigorous way one has to define “democracy” — to avoid confusion). To me lobbyism is either using professionals registered through FARA or relying on a grassroot network of compatriots. And she — and her pals — is neither.
    Now, you could argue that using illegals could work as effectively as using registered lobbyists. I doubt that, but in any case, this isn’t cost-effective: you have to pay for lobbying activities AND the cover protection. Why? You could simply hire Bob Dole for a half of the expense.
    Best Regards,

  8. Dole’s case would be tricky given his pro-Albanian/anti-Serb positions.
    IMO, better to go with able, sincere and well deserving folks whose views are clearly in line with improving things.
    On a related note:
    Anti-Russian/non-Russian nationalist leaning views appear more welcome than reasoned pro-Russian and pro-Western views.
    Therein lies the uphill battle. There’re other telling examples. The English language Kyiv Post regularly hosts anti-Russian/Ukrainian nationalist leaning views. In contrast, the non-Russian owned and Moscow based English language Moscow Times isn’t so forthcoming with erudite pro-Russian views which directly hit home on the anti-Russian biases out there.

  9. Eugene says:

    Hi Mike,
    Sure, I wasn’t very serious about Dole. Yet, he demonstrated great lobbying skills when solving Depipaska’s visa problems:)

  10. Good point Eugene. Things like that happen.
    Still think it better to go with competent folks, who’ve a clearly established pattern in line with a given advocacy.
    This is especially true when such individuals haven’t yet been utilized, as things remain in a “needs improvement” category.
    Giving myself the benefit of doubt, I back-checked some of my prior comments and find them to be quite appropriate.
    BTW, I’m reminded of a few years back, when there was an announcement that Angus Roxburgh, (formerly of the BBC) was hired to do some form of Russian government connected PR work. Upon this announcement, Roxburgh stated the line about how (as he put it) the comparative freedom 1990s period in Russia took a step back, suggesting how he would improve the situation.
    No surprise why there has been an ongoing status quo.

  11. The use of these academic authors, they had more time to mingle with friends, bond with their spouse or their children and do other things they wouldn’t have time if they do not receive the help an academic writer.

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