Moscow Mitch is opening all kinds of doors to Russian interference in the U.S.
Moscow Mitch McConnell is finally getting much-needed national press attention for his absolute refusal to take up legislation to protect American citizens against two immediate threats: gun violence and our 2020 election security. There's a longer-term threat, though, that he's helping to create that has national security and foreign policy experts concerned: He's opened the door to Kremlin political leverage through his push to have sanctions lifted against the Russian conglomerate Rusal, which then engineered a $200 million investment in McConnell's home state of Kentucky for an aluminum mill.
Rachel Maddow featured Laura Rosenberger, director of the Alliance for Securing Democracy and a former Obama administration National Security Council official, to talk about Russia's strategy of using commercial interests to get leverage over the target country's political decisions. "We know that the Russian government and its proxies use a range of tools," she told Maddow. She says that the discussion in the U.S. has to go beyond their interference in social media and our elections, to include Russia's "use of economic coercion and malign financial influence," which the Russian government has been "using across the trans-Atlantic community for nearly two decades."
Russian companies and oligarchs "need to keep the Kremlin, Putin, the Russian government happy," she told Maddow. "They do that by securing deals they think will be in the Kremlin's interest … investing in places where they will gain leverage with certain elites." She pointed to former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s position on the board of a Russian energy company as an example of an elite captured "through economic and commercial means so they begin to advocate not for the interests of Germany, [in the case of Schröder] but the Kremlin's."
The oligarchs, keeping Putin happy, have learned how to find a foothold from which they'll then "be able to influence policy decisions and political calculations from within by taking what appears to be in the surface a commercial interest, but which is all about the political interests." There wouldn't be a much bigger prize for the oligarchs and Putin (beyond Donald Trump, who by all appearances just handed himself over) than the leader of the Senate and the gatekeeper of the American legislative process. "They look for places where they see soft edges and when they see that they push harder," Rosenberger said. McConnell gave them that soft edge when he resisted efforts by the Obama administration to publicly fight back against Russian election interference.
"When we see these kinds of deals go forward," Rosenberger continued, "and we see concerns being raised and we don't see pushback from political leadership, that's only going to further embolden Russian companies and their proxies to take more steps like this, to seek out more political leverage." Rusal, the company that's investing $200 million in Kentucky, "has already put out a number of requests to other states seeking these very same kind of deals," she said. "There's a strategic aspect of this for the Russian government. It's about weakening our ability to respond to Russian tactics, it's about trying to influence policy decisions from within, it's about creating leverage and brining elites over to their side."
The Russian company, as proxy for the government, is in a position now to threaten Kentucky—which as a state invested $15 million in this project—and all of the jobs they're creating in what is an economically depressed part of the state. That's a threat not just to the state, but to McConnell and his re-election prospects. That in turn is a threat to national interests because of the potential that McConnell is now "captured" by the Russians. Whether McConnell helped engineer this Kentucky deal with his push to lift sanctions—he denies it—or not, he's still in a position to be used as a tool by Putin.
By refusing to do the immediate thing to combat the Russian threat to our nation—take up and push for passage of election security measures—McConnell isn't just giving Russia that soft edge; he's giving every appearance of having already been captured.