On 9 February 1950, at the height of the cold war, a little known Republican senator declared: ‘I have here in my hand a list of 205 people that were known to the secretary of state as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping the policy of the state department.’ With that, McCarthy stepped into US history through the door marked infamy. No such list existed, but the ensuing wave of anti-communist hysteria and purges shattered the lives of thousands of Americans.
In 2017 it is plainly the loyalty of the next US president to his country that is at issue. With his cabinet of generals and billionaires, reasons to fear him are legion. But the Democratic Party and many in the western media seem obsessed with the bizarre idea that Donald Trump will be ‘a puppet for the Kremlin’ (1), and that he owes his election to data hacking orchestrated by the Russians. McCarthyist paranoia may be a long time in the past, but the Washington Post has just revived that history, on 24 November, relating worries about the possible existence of ‘more than 200 websites’ that ‘wittingly or unwittingly published or echoed Russian propaganda.’
An ill wind is blowing in the West. And almost every election is assessed through the lens of Russia. Whether discussing Trump in the US, Jeremy Corbyn in the UK or candidates as different as Jean-Luc Mélenchon, François Fillon and Marine Le Pen in France, it is enough to express doubts about sanctions against Russia or anti-Russian theories from the CIA — an institution surely as infallible as it is beyond reproach — to be suspected of serving the Kremlin’s ends.
In such an atmosphere, one dares not imagine the outpouring of indignation that would have been aroused if Russia, rather than the US, had listened in on Angela Merkel’s telephone calls, or if Google had delivered billions of pieces of private data collected online to Moscow rather than the National Security Agency (NSA). Without quite realising the irony of his words, Barack Obama used a press conference on 16 December to warn Russia: they need to ‘understand that whatever they do to us, we can potentially do to them.’
Vladimir Putin knows this very well. In spring 1996 the ailing, alcoholic Boris Yeltsin, a (corrupt) architect of his country’s social chaos, only survived catastrophic unpopularity through declared support, both political and financial, from western states — and timely stuffing of the ballot boxes. Thus, Yeltsin, beloved by democrats in Washington, Berlin and Paris (despite shelling the Russian parliament in December 1993, causing the deaths of hundreds of people), was re-elected. And four years later, he transferred all his powers to his loyal prime minister, the delightful Vladimir Putin…