A Crusader Against Corruption: Why Donald Trump, Putin, And Russia Are Panicked About Joe Biden

First, I know this comes off as an endorsement, so let me first offer the caveat that it is not I still have not personally made a decision on my candidate in the Democratic primary, except to know that it won’t be Gabbard or Sanders.

The Russians are back, and they have a target. Remember the Internet Research Agency? Yes, the one that was indicted in the Special Counsel’s investigation of Russian interference in the US elections in 2016? They are back. And they have a target.

Joe Biden.

Facebook on Monday said it removed a network of Russian-backed accounts that posed as locals weighing in on political issues in swing states, praising President Trump and attacking former vice president Joe Biden — illustrating that the familiar threat of Russian interference looms over the next U.S. presidential race.

Facebook said the network bears the hallmark of the same Kremlin-backed group that interfered in the 2016 election by sowing social discord, seeking to boost Trump and attacking Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

Joe Biden is not just a target of the Russian operatives this time, he appears to be the target. The Russian 2020 campaign is just as pervasive as the one they ran targeting Hillary Clinton in 2016, and that means that they are attempting to build natural-looking personas and groups. In turn, that means that these personas have their own viewpoints and candidates, and are sharing content and comments friendly to “their” candidates and some hostile to others. For example, pesonas masquerading as being from the Left attack Trump, and personas blending in with the Right took shots at Democrats.

But Joe Biden was unique, CNN reports, in that Biden’s was the only campaign broadly attacked from both the Left and the Right. According to Ben Nimmo, the director of investigations from Graphrika, a social media research firm that analyzed the accounts shut down by Facebook, the analysis:

[...]observed attacks on other candidates, including Sen. Kamala Harris and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, but said those attacks seemed more the result of "character building" in which the accounts were sharing content to bolster their respective personas -- for instance, liberal-looking accounts attacked Trump, while conservative-looking accounts posted negative content about Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. 

Sen. Harris was, however, a specific target among the Left-posing accounts that focused on race. And you would never guess on who was the darling of these Russian pretend-Lefties and pretend-black activists:

"Among the accounts focused on black activism, there was strong support for Bernie Sanders along with a moderate amount of content opposing Kamala Harris," Graphika said in its analysis. "Education reform and student debt relief were two of the most commonly mentioned reasons for supporting Sanders, while Harris's record as a California DA was mentioned as a reason to oppose her candidacy. Mixed in with these was a small amount of content attacking Joe Biden, primarily due to gaffes related to his previous handling of racial issues."

This is how good Russians are at American propaganda. They do not manufacture issues or criticisms out of thin air. They simply choose to amplify, with a megaphone, the criticisms of those they fear and promotions of those they find endearing. They know that Kamala Harris has a particular appeal for being the only serious candidate who is a black woman, and they are focusing on undermining her with issues where she is vulnerable to criticism, fair or not (usually not). Free stuff is seen as Bernie’s strength, of course, and they support him.

Some of the fake accounts pretending to focus on black activism also went after Biden, targeting and amplifying certain racial ‘gaffes’ he’s made in the past. But unlike Harris, the Russian attack on Biden was broad-based. Whether it was broad-based attacks from the pretend-Left on Biden or the racially focused pretend-Left on Harris, the support for Sanders featured as prominently as the critic of Biden (and in a more targeted set of content, Harris). Reports the Washington Post:

Biden came under attack from accounts that positioned themselves on both sides of the political spectrum. One account reposted a tweet from a right-wing political commentator parroting a Trump rebuke of Biden, while another posted a meme showing a road diverging and a car swerving to choose the path representing “Bernie 2020” over “Joe Biden.” Four years earlier, Russian-backed Facebook accounts similarly promoted Sanders during the Democratic primary against Clinton, according to Senate investigators.

Given the full-court-press attempt by Russian fake social media personas to take down Biden - which, if two new polls showing him rising back to the top of the Democratic primary field are any example, aren’t working - one may be tempted to ask why. We know why they went after Hillary Clinton - for one thing, Trump is compromised, and even more importantly, Hillary Clinton made life a living hell for Putin. But what did Biden do? What did you do, Uncle Joe?

It turns out that at least part of what Biden did to royally tick off Vladimir Putin - apart from his decades of work in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee upholding American commitment to Europe and former Soviet states that wanted to be free and working with President Obama to isolate Russia - has to do with Ukraine, and that weaves into the story of Trump and Giuliani wanting to dig up dirt on Biden through Ukraine.

Vice President Biden was President Obama’s point man on Ukraine and Russia, and as vice president, Biden was absolutely committed to reforming and rooting out corruption in Ukraine. As a former Soveit bloc country liberated in 1991 and re-invaded by Russia in 2014, Ukrainian politics has been mired with self-dealings and corruption, much of it at the behest of Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin. Ukraine has had to oust pro-Putin presidents, and Joe Biden was adamant that they address corruption in order to get American assistance.

Note that this is actually a quid pro quo, the kind that good diplomats use frequently to leverage American aid to push for American values and interests, as well as to implement American foreign policy objectives, unlike what Trump did, using Ukraine to dig up dirt on domestic political opponents.

And Joe Biden wasn’t afraid to dress down foreign leaders in private in pursuit of American values and American foreign policy objectives. In the second half of 2016, months before he left office, Biden had an encounter with the then-President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko.

“Don’t give me this bullshit,” Biden bellowed in the September 2016 encounter, according to an aide who was present, unloading on Petro Poroshenko after Biden felt he was making excuses for failing to root out corruption involving the country’s state-owned gas company.

“There’s nothing that happens in Ukraine you don’t know about,” Biden continued. “If something like this happens again, I’m done with you.” [[/quote]]

From all accounts, Biden and Poroshenko had a close personal relationship, but Biden never had a second thought about putting the interest of democratic, anticorruption values over his own personal relationships. In fact, it is likely the case that Biden’s hard push for Ukraine to reform made him some powerful enemies - enemies who, given the chance, would be willing to manufacture the dirt Trump is seeking.

Primary among them would be former Ukrainian Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin, whose firing Biden was demanding when he cleaned Poroshekno’s clock in September of 2016. Lutsenko as well as his successor and another Poroshenko ally, Yuri Lutsenko. Both Lutsenko and Shokin coordinated with the titular head of Donald Trump’s shadow foreign policy in Ukraine, Rudy Giuliani. In 2015, the United States, Europe, the International Monetary Fund and several others targeted Shokin out for corruption, but it took persistent pressure from Vice President Biden and the leverage of $1 billion in US aid to make it happen. And in Shokin, Biden immediately made a corrupt but powerful enemy. Poroshenko did not appreciate Biden’s unwavering stand either, which he thought made him look weak.

It bears mentioning that at the time Biden pushed for Shokin’s firing, his office was not investigating the Ukrainian company Barisma, where Biden’s son Hunter was a Board member.

What about Putin? What about Russia? Ukrainian corruption is a key currency for Russia. Ukrainian corruption makes it easier for Putin to lay claim on Ukrainian territory, discredit democratic institutions, and advance his objective of reviving the Soviet Union.

Joe Biden did more than anyone to advance American anticorruption objectives in Ukraine even when he was vice president. It’s easy to see why President Biden is not a reality Putin is eager to face.

And so, true to their motto of attempting to turn an opponent’s greatest strength into their weakness - mostly so the opponent would stop talking about it - Putin and Trump are attempting to portray Biden as the corrupt one.

Except this time, they got caught. Before the election.

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