Why US Empire Works So Hard to Control the International Narrative About Russia

The imperial propagandists don’t need actual facts to get this story believed, writes Caitlin Johnstone.

By Caitlin Johnstone

On a December 2010 episode of Fox News’ Freedom Watch, John Bolton and the show’s host Andrew Napolitano were debating about recent WikiLeaks publications, and naturally the subject of government secrecy came up.

“Now I want to make the case for secrecy in government when it comes to the conduct of national security affairs, and possibly for deception where that’s appropriate,” said Bolton, the former Trump national security adviser. “You know Winston Churchill said during World War Two that in wartime truth is so important it should be surrounded by a bodyguard of lies.”

“Do you really believe that?” asked an incredulous Napolitano.

“Absolutely,” Bolton replied.

“You would lie in order to preserve the truth?” asked Napolitano.

“If I had to say something I knew was false to protect American national security, I would do it,” Bolton answered.

“Why do people in the government think that the laws of society or the rules don’t apply to them?” Napolitano asked.

“Because they are not dealing in the civil society we live in under the Constitution,” Bolton replied. “They are dealing in the anarchic environment internationally where different rules apply.”

“But you took an oath to uphold the Constitution, and the Constitution mandates certain openness and certain fairness,” Napolitano protested. “You’re willing to do away with that in order to attain a temporary military goal?”

“I think as Justice Jackson said in a famous decision, the Constitution is not a suicide pact,” Bolton said. “And I think defending the United States from foreign threats does require actions that in a normal business environment in the United States we would find unprofessional. I don’t make any apology for it.”

I am going to type a sequence of words that I have never typed before, and don’t expect to ever type again:

John Bolton is right.

Bolton is of course not right in his pathetic spin job on the use of lies to promote military agendas, which just looks like a feeble attempt to justify the psychopathic measures he himself took to deceive the world into consenting to the unforgivably evil invasion of Iraq. What he is right about is that conflicts between nations take place in an “anarchic environment internationally where different rules apply.”

Individual nations have governments with laws that are enforced by those governments. Since we do not have a single unified government for our planet (at least not yet), the interactions between those governments is largely anarchic, and not in a good way.

“International law,” in reality, only meaningfully exists to the extent that the international community is collectively willing to enforce it. In practice what this means is that only nations that have no influence over the dominant narratives in the international community are subject to “international law.”

This is why you will see leaders in African nations sentenced to prison by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes, but the USA can get away with actually sanctioning ICC personnel if they so much as talk about investigating American war crimes and suffer no consequences for it whatsoever. It is also why Noam Chomsky famously said that if the Nuremberg laws had continued to be applied with fairness and consistency, then every post-war U.S. president would have been hanged.

And this is also why so much effort gets poured into controlling the dominant international narrative about nations like Russia which have resisted being absorbed into the U.S. power alliance. If you have the influence and leverage to control what narratives the international community accepts as true about the behavior of a given targeted nation, then you can do things like manufacture international collaboration with aggressive economic sanctions of the sort Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is currently calling for in response to the completely unsubstantiated narrative that Russia paid Taliban fighters bounties to kill occupying forces in Afghanistan.

In its ongoing slow-motion third world war against nations which refuse to be absorbed into the blob of the U.S. power alliance, this tight empire-like cluster of allies stands everything to gain by doing whatever it takes to undermine and sabotage Russia in an attempt to shove it off the world stage and eliminate the role it plays in opposing that war. Advancing as many narratives as possible about Russia doing nefarious things on the world stage manufactures consent for international collaboration toward that end in the form of economic warfare, proxy conflicts, NATO expansionism and other measures, as well as facilitating a new arms race by killing the last of the U.S.-Russia nuclear treaties and ensuring a continued imperial military presence in Afghanistan.

We haven’t been shown any hard evidence for Russians paying bounties in Afghanistan, and we almost certainly never will be. This doesn’t matter as far as the imperial propagandists are concerned; they know they don’t need actual facts to get this story believed, they just need narrative control. All the propagandists need to do is say over and over again that Russia paid bounties to kill the troops in Afghanistan in an increasingly assertive and authoritative tone, and after a while people will start assuming it’s true, just because the propagandists have been doing this.

They’ll add new pieces of data to the narrative, none of which will constitute hard proof of their claims, but after enough “bombshell” stories reported in an assertive and ominous tone of voice, people will start assuming it’s a proven fact that Russia paid those bounties. Narrative managers will be able to simply wave their hands at a disparate, unverified cloud of information and proclaim that it is a mountain of evidence and that anyone doubting all this proof must be a kook. (This by the way is a textbook Gish gallop fallacy, where a bunch of individually weak arguments are presented to give the illusion of a single strong case.)

This is all because “international law” only exists in practical terms to the extent that governments around the world agree to pretend it exists. As long as the U.S.-centralized empire is able to control the prevailing narrative about what Russia is doing, that empire will be able to continue to use the pretext of “international law” as a bludgeon against its enemies. That’s all we’re really seeing here.

Caitlin Johnstone is a rogue journalist, poet, and utopia prepper who publishes regularly at Medium.   Her work is entirely reader-supported, so if you enjoyed this piece please consider sharing it around, liking her on Facebook, following her antics on Twitter, checking out her podcast on either YoutubesoundcloudApple podcasts or Spotify, following her on Steemit, throwing some money into her tip jar on Patreon or Paypal, purchasing some of her sweet merchandise, buying her books Rogue Nation: Psychonautical Adventures With Caitlin Johnstone and Woke: A Field Guide for Utopia Preppers.”

This article was re-published with permission.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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41 comments for “Why US Empire Works So Hard to Control the International Narrative About Russia

  1. July 3, 2020 at 16:11

    Another laughable story disseminated by the corporate media pundits. It doesn’t matter if it’s the Times, the Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC or CBS; they all parrot the same propagandistic government line. The Russia Gate and Ukraine Gate hoax was continually debunked only to be resurrected again by the deep state allied with the Democratic Party and the corporate media. The Intelligence Services have now decided to pull another rabbit out their hat by smearing Russia with unproven ridiculous allegations that they are paying bounties to Taliban fighters to kill US soldiers. Since when have the Taliban needed monetary incentives from the Russians to take pot shots at American occupiers who have been in their nation for over 19 years? It’s no coincidence that these intelligence sources were leaked to the NY Times and Washington Post during the process of the Afghanistan peace negotiations. The Times and Washington Post didn’t question the source for evidence or confirmed facts but dutifully amplified the allegations like obedient stenographers parroting the propagandistic government line. It’s ironic that US/ Western leaders and their corporate media pundits always deride China and Russia for having state-run news outlets but they fail to acknowledge the role of US news organizations in being nothing more than extensions of US government policy.

  2. Robert Emmett
    July 3, 2020 at 12:44

    Just having watched the doc “1971”, I’m equally worried about the toll such behavior takes at home. Fresh in my mind is the fact that justifications such as “national security” are used to cow, browbeat & demonize any whiff of criticism. The notion that only those in their exalted positions of power, in their noble missions astride the globe, are endowed with a righteous right to lie to the people (for their own good) is a fake idea. It tears down the very democratic fabric it claims to uphold.

    Undercover lies sow widespread discord & fear among the people while those with their self-appointed J.J.E. degrees wield the power of Judge, Jury & Executioner to hone-in on, make examples of & destroy those who would criticize & object. And the so-called democratic institutions of power that are meant to strike a balance for the people against tyrannical abuse (the legislature, the agencies, the military, the police, the courts & the media) are in on it, to an unhealthy degree.

    Imagine, for a half-century, one man cracked the whip & his loyal servants danced their demented dance over the grave of American democracy while the masses adored him and proclaimed him a hero! In my view, if there is some lasting value in tearing down & removing monuments to past sins, what better place to start than with the Hoover Federal Building?

  3. July 3, 2020 at 11:21

    Brainwashed Ameribots will never register lies and deceit – “does not compute, does not compute, does not compute…”

  4. Farhad
    July 3, 2020 at 08:47

    The hdden fact in this revelation which nobody is paying attention is that the Trump adminstration is conducting talks with Taliban in Qatar !!! Reminds me of Reagan and Taliban meeting in the WH.LOL.

  5. peter mcloughlin
    July 2, 2020 at 15:40

    The truth about all wars – especially world wars – is that they are fought over power. Those in power do not see that they are moving towards world war three, and if they do not change course, will be destroyed – like all empires. See: ghostsofhistory.wordpress.com/

  6. Caveman
    July 2, 2020 at 05:48

    Essentially, this article says that that there is no rule of law in international relations, and that the US takes advantage of this situation. No disagreement there. But the author, and commentators above, do not seem to hold Russia and China to the same standards as they appear to expect of the US. Are they not just as guilty?

    • Skip Scott
      July 2, 2020 at 08:20

      Putin makes a point of respecting international law. He is constantly citing it in his speeches and interviews. Neither of those countries has military bases all over the planet. Their disputes regarding borders are local, and their positions rational. They largely abide by international standards. They are not “just as guilty”.

    • Zhu
      July 2, 2020 at 08:44

      We Americans are responsible for what we do. Saying “those other people are doing XYZ too!!” is childish.

    • July 2, 2020 at 09:24

      I think you may have misunderstood what Caitlan is saying. There is of course international law that governs the behaviour of nations and it is sourced to the United Nations. However the US does not abide by these rules. America thinks it is above these rules, that they dont apply to America. Just listen to Mike Pompeo on the subject, he is quite explicit. Because America does not abide by international rules, international rules effectively dont exist. But America is alone in this. No other country behaves in this way. So no, China and Russia are not ‘just as guilty’.

    • AnneR
      July 2, 2020 at 10:02

      Ummmm…Caitlin is arguing that – quite truthfully and rightly – it is the USA which is NEVER and will NOT Permit that IT Ever be held to International Law standards on anything, but most particularly on its human rights crimes across the world, from economic sanctions (siege warfare), illegal invasions, atrocities – 78 x 24 hour bombing of Serbia (deliberately targeting housing, hospitals and other human life necessities), the use of depleted uranium cased missiles and bullets in Iraq (1991 and from 2003), the use of chemical weapons against targeted nations, Korea, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia being the most obvious examples, murdering people by drone, destroying Libya…on and on. NO other nation has murdered so many people for no “national security” reason whatsoever. Indeed no other nation has killed so many people…and that doesn’t even begin to touch issues such as what we have done to the Marshal Islanders, the Chagos Islanders (different in each case but destructive, totally of their ways of life, of their homes, their rights as human beings).

      And that doesn’t touch what the US government and its affiliates (Federal, state and private prisons; Native Americans e.g) do to the citizens of this country. And then there’s Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, the Black Sites, Rendition, US govt “legalized torture.”

      Russia and China come nowhere near. But you’d never hear that, well, we’re hardly shining examples of how to act in country and without. No. They – the once Communist countries – are always pointed to as THE Bad guys, the evil committers, the countries that imprison thousands and extract labor from them (!) as if it isn’t that way in OUR Constitution and in reality in all of our Prisons. That they aren’t democracies, not even Russia which apparently pretends to be (according to our MSM). That may be true. But then, in what way are WE a true democracy?? Exactly??

  7. Realist
    July 2, 2020 at 00:58

    I’m sure Caitlin is quite correct about the reality of and motivation for Washington’s baseless non-stop slandering of Russia and its political leadership. However, it’s not only foreign countries like Russia, China, Venezuela and Iran that get this despicable treatment, no matter what a piece of excrement like John Bolton may say. The same immoral behavior actually prevails in the normal give and take of internal American politics. The president of our own country (Donald Trump, love him or hate him) has been subjected to such slanders and accusations that amount to nothing less than charges of treason for nearly four continuous years. It didn’t start with him either. Nor in the United States. I seem to vaguely recall a tale about the Gracchus Brothers from the ancient Roman Republic in my high school history class. Virtue has, as they say, always been its own punishment.

    This ugly mockery goes on unabated to the present moment because in American society simply being accused of an illegal act, a social faux pas or merely a bad attitude by the mainstream media is tantamount to being convicted at Nuremberg in the complete absence of any evidence. No proof required. Mere denunciation suffices. The media don’t need no stinkin’ badges nor do they ever need any supporting facts to shred anyone’s reputation, and their accusers in the political opposition, military or intel agencies will certainly never provide any. Proffering actual evidence is viewed as an entree to debunking it, so why take that risk?

    American politics, like the American justice system, deals mainly with confabulated narratives, not with empirical facts in the real world! Or, as many describe it, a “matrix” as harsh and unforgiving as the meme portrayed in the movie of the same name.

    • Consortiumnews.com
      July 2, 2020 at 06:18

      Indeed. And anyone providing evidence to challenge the confabulated narratives is scorned.

  8. DH Fabian
    July 2, 2020 at 00:21

    Why would anyone think that, when the US invades a country, the people of that country would need to be paid to fight back against the invaders?

    • AnneR
      July 2, 2020 at 10:06

      QUITE! The trumped up out of feathers and dust nowhere charge – repeated and repeated and repeated as FACT, bien sur – is absolutely ludicrous. But you can bet a sizeable number of the so-called lib-prog bourgeois blue face supporter lot will grab onto it (once again) as another Cold Warrior way to oust the Strumpet.

  9. Ron Johnson
    July 1, 2020 at 23:54

    Rightfully Russia has an entitlement to pay us back for Charlie Wilson’s war:


    But how would a bounty for killing American soldiers work? $500 for set of dog tags or the left ear? What incentive do the Taliban need to kill the hated Americans? Would the Russians give away money for that? It would be like paying cats to eat fish.

    Probably a ploy to sic us onto Russia, for Russia having frustrated Israel in the Syrian war fiasco: quagmire number 2, … … after Iraq.

    • AnneR
      July 2, 2020 at 10:11

      True indeed – and where would Russia, not exactly rolling in it right now (oil prices) and needing to keep itself (i.e. its population) afloat, get all of this excess cash???? To give to the Taliban (or as has been postulated, some other jihadi, anti Am group)?

      Of course, one recognizes that the Russians would have every bloody reason (1978-1989) to think about this – but why would they do something that would, eventually, get into the ears of the US “intel” agencies and potentially cause MORE problems…The Russians are definitely NOT idiots. Unlike another lot I could think of.

  10. Jim Hartz
    July 1, 2020 at 23:32

    Plato sugar-coated it all long ago with his notion of the ‘noble lie,’ then spoon-fed down the line into the eager little beaks of Charles Olson’s contemporary followers–with a ‘bent spoon.’

  11. Sam F
    July 1, 2020 at 22:19

    The idea that conflicts between nations take place in an “anarchic environment internationally where different rules apply” presumes that diplomacy, treaties, and international organizations cannot work. That is the presumption of militarists, tyrants like Bolton, and most US presidents, not a presumption of humanitarians,

    Secrecy is only necessary for specific operations and capabilities in wars already approved by the people.
    The people have not approved wars simply because bribed Congresspeople are afraid to oppose them.
    Secret wars, coercion, etc. are unnecessary, and the capability thereof is the end of democracy.

    • Skip Scott
      July 2, 2020 at 08:12

      Exactly Sam. How can a government be “of, by, and for the people” when its citizens are lied to? Putting that kind of “distance” between the government and the governed is fatal to democracy.

      I can understand secrecy during war time regarding tactics, but not actively lying to the public.

  12. July 1, 2020 at 22:06

    I think Bolton totally misinterpreted the phrase about the constitution not being a suicide pact. It has been used in several court decisions. hXXps://www.nytimes.com/2002/09/22/weekinreview/the-nation-suicide-pact.html While Jackson did say it another justice said it better.

  13. cirsium
    July 1, 2020 at 18:01

    Reminds me of Jean Claude Juncker, another rogue, who said in 2011 “When it becomes serious, you have to lie”.

  14. Thomas Brom
    July 1, 2020 at 17:26

    Caitlin is right about the narrative of U.S. empire–but she misses the significance of Bolton’s belief that “truth is so important it should be surrounded by a bodyguard of lies.” Bolton, along with the other founders of the 1997 Project for the New American Century (PNAC), believes in the “philosophy of deception” promoted by former University of Chicago classics professor Leo Strauss. Though it may seem utterly wack, Strauss’s theories were all about Plato, a hierarchy of morally superior leaders, and the masses. For the neocon PNAC set, telling Straussean lies is absolutely necessary. You could Google it.

    • Randal Marlin
      July 2, 2020 at 09:22

      You can add to Leo Strauss the influential political philosopher Eric Voegelin:
      • “It is the task of a politician to bamboozle his people into doing, for all sorts of reasons, things which should be done for the right reasons. That is the art of a statesman.”
      • hXXp://voegelinview.com/in-search-of-the-ground-pt-5/

    • Christian J. Chuba
      July 2, 2020 at 10:21

      “truth is so important it should be surrounded by a bodyguard of lies.”

      Isn’t that just another way to say, “the ends justify the means”?

      Christian Conservatives like to sound erudite by condemning this as situational ethics but love Neocons (and no this is not a codeword for Jews, yet another lie). A Neocon is one who believes that the U.S. is a force for good and is obligated to use its force to spread good to other countries. Peaceful coexistence is an abrogation of our responsibility.

  15. Randal Marlin
    July 1, 2020 at 16:55

    John Bolton’s argument is a familiar one. He says that lying is justified when it is needed to preserve the security of the state. St. Augustine and Kant would not agree, but liberals might well agree when the argument is presented in that way. I think. though, that a good liberal response would be to re-phrase the question in the following way: “Is lying justified by John Bolton, or anyone else, when they think it is necessary for the security of the state?” That brings into play the whole notion of evidence, and the need to examine the premise about the supposed necessity for lying, given the world in which we now live. John Bolton should be asked, for example, whether he thinks lying is justified when it is necessary for the security of a state even when that state is embarked on a mission of world domination to the detriment of other states or individual human rights. Or when the lie is likely to make nuclear-armed states less trusting with the consequence that an escalating war is set in motion through miscalculations.
    John Stuart Mill’s liberal philosophy was based on the principle that people are fallible. Someone who accepts the possibility of their own fallibility should I think be more circumspect when presenting a justification for lying to preserve security of the state.

  16. Drew Hunkins
    July 1, 2020 at 16:49

    Of course the whole vicious absurdity of Bolton’s position is based on his definition of “national security.” His definition means the ability for the Washington-Zionist militarist imperialists to rob, pillage and exploit with impunity or to simply obliterate certain nation-states and turn them into completely failed states.

    Genuine national security to me means high wages, healthcare for all, debt jubilee for all workers making less than $150,000 per yr, subsidized housing, mandatory 1 mo vacation time for all workers, free day-care and childcare centers, strong democratic labor unions representing all workers, greatly decreasing the defense [sic] budget and transforming the swords into plowshares, full retirement benefits for all workers at 55 y.o., taxing our .0001% parasitic financial elite with real progressive taxation.

    • Robert
      July 1, 2020 at 18:54

      I could not have said this better!! Thanks

    • AnneR
      July 2, 2020 at 10:14

      Absolutely Correct on all points, DH. Ta very much!

    • Jean
      July 2, 2020 at 17:24

      I love you Drew. Talk about cutting off the Pretenders at the knees!

  17. michael888
    July 1, 2020 at 16:26

    And here I thought the Taliban was fighting a war against Americans for nationalistic, tribal reasons or for religious, sacred Muslim soil reasons. But for $$$$?? That seems a distinctly American rationale for taking human life. Like everything about Russiagate, “Russian bounties” has the ring of bullshit.

    • jd2021
      July 2, 2020 at 07:24

      “War is a racket.” -General Smedly Butler

  18. GMCasey
    July 1, 2020 at 16:06

    Russia was supposed to take down Japan—but Then Truman wanted to test the bombs—so America did. Of course they went on to test the bombs on other island nations too. Then .NATO was never to go up to Russia’s border —until it did Then there was that Uk thing, and why would Russia care about a spy from a decade ago, and after all, the ex spy’s house was down the road from the UK poison and kill center. I am wondering I also wonder why no nation seemed to say anything about why Israel never had to explain how it could kill the men on the USS Liberty, a and why was Rachel Corrie killed by a bulldozer, why the flotilla could be attacked in international waters why Palestinians aren’t considered human beings? I also wonder why Bush and Cheney, and Biden too wanted to attack Iraq for what Saudi Arabia did. Why would any normal person call an attack: “Shock and Awe.?”It also seems weird that Obama wont Peace Prize for no reason and even killed a lot of people in the Middle East. It actually seems that the Reagan person should have been in trouble for undermining a US President, Carter. Generals do betray us and when the military has no idea when and where so much money went missing——-then a person would feel that we are all living in an insane and deluded nation on a planet without much of a livable climate future. Sadly both the Trump person and the Biden one appear to be useless.Of course, that’s just what I think today—who
    knows.However, it does seem that the capacity for human stupidity is unlimited.

    • jd2021
      July 2, 2020 at 07:27

      I believe you’re accurate….humans have been lying to themselves always, in order to live with themselves, over anything and everything, from how nature works to what happens after you die. Mass-projection and self-delusion is the hallmark of human existence. More’s the pity.

  19. Dfnslblty
    July 1, 2020 at 15:59

    Bolton is not right/correct.
    The int’l community has moved beyond lies and violence; only usa lives there.
    And the world sometime – not Russia & China – reäcts …

    Of course a god negotiator does not present all of her cards on day one.
    potus doesn’t have good negotiators from his office and admin.

    Bullying is not negotiating.

    Bolton is a potus45-style negotiator and a waste f your time.

  20. Anonymous
    July 1, 2020 at 15:53

    That bit about different rules sounds like a regular Dirty Harry bit – the mentality that has pushed this country into rule of the lawman (vs rule of law). I can’t believe you’d promote it even with the disclaimers and exceptions you’ve provided.

    While it does achieve a purpose for the time being, our bastardization of “international law” will have severe long term consequences similar to what bastardizing local laws at home has done. In this situation, just as in any other, throwing integrity under the bus isn’t just a means of staying afloat, it’s a method of murdering our ideology from the top down.

  21. Christian J. Chuba
    July 1, 2020 at 15:50

    This is why I can tolerate Bolton but not Pompeo. at least Bolton lays it out there. Pompeo will lie to your face, call a liar and then call America is a force for good, if you try to argue with him. At least Bolton doesn’t pollute the atmosphere with that kind of stench.

    I get lying for short periods of time during actual wars such as WW2 but to the Neocons, it is always WW2. Lying should be the exception not the rule. When you lie as a matter of course, you corrupt every relationship you have with other countries and turn your own residents into cynics or mindless sheep.

    If Congress does not have the balls to declare a war then we have no right to lie about that country.

  22. firstpersoninfinite
    July 1, 2020 at 15:05

    What is the difference between the “Most-wanted Iraqi playing cards” used to decide high interest targets during the illegal invasion of Iraq and the claim of “targeting” against Russia? Well, the claim against Russia is unsubstantiated. The cards issued by our government were a fact highly advertised and whose facsimiles now sell for boatloads on Amazon. Always accuse your enemies of what you yourself have already accomplished.

  23. July 1, 2020 at 14:28

    The USA transported thousands of Arabs to Afghanistan where it provided them with $3 billion in weapons to kill Russians.
    As American troops marched eastward toward Russia, our media accused the Russians of “aggression”
    Watch this short video to learn about “The NATO Conquest of Eastern Europe.”

    • Tony kevin
      July 2, 2020 at 05:15

      And openly advocated . Tony Kevin

  24. July 1, 2020 at 13:22

    Once again, CJ is on target.

    Russiagate: How can anyone seriously believe that a handful of Russian trolls spending under $100K changed the direction of an election in which the candiates spent a collective $2+BILLION? If so, then every politico in America should beat a path to the Russians’ door. Obviously they are smarter, cleverer and FAR more economical than the DNC pimps, who send out daily pleas for money money money money money.Then do Wall Street’s bidding.

    Russian bounty: First, whenever you read “intelligences sources say”, it means “the CIA is lying to you”, as CJ has previously pointed out. But let’s step back further: Why would any Afghanis need to be paid to kill the Americans who invaded their country, killed their people, destroyed their infrastructure, restarted the opium trade, and have occupied their land for close to two decades? Seriously. This is really even dumber than Russiagate.

    • Eddie S
      July 1, 2020 at 21:48

      I’ve been saying the same thing about Russia-gate! Add to the fact of $2 B in Dem spending, the additional fact that all the politicos in the Democratic Party have the advantage (over supposed Russian ‘influencers’) of a lifetime of enculturation in US habits/values/speech. Also, who naively believes everything they read or even SEE on the Internet? There are websites like Snopes.com that make a good living debunking Internet memes and ‘true’ stories, and anyone not living in a closet knows about Internet scams like the Nigerian prince, so how would those sneaky ‘Rooskies’ influence a significant amount of voters, even IF they tried?

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