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Washington collapses into scandal, Moscow remains calm

As Washington descends into hysteria over the Russian hacking claims and the Dossier into Donald Trump’s supposed Russian connections, Moscow – the other capital involved in the scandal – remains calm.

Dmitry Peskov, President Putin’s spokesman, denied the allegations in the Trump Dossier yesterday, just as the Russians have previously denied the hacking claims and the claims that they leaked the DNC and Podesta emails to Wikileaks.

In passing, Peskov has a starring role in the Trump Dossier, which makes him out to be the mastermind behind the whole alleged Russian campaign to meddle in the US election.

I doubt that there is any person with genuine knowledge of Russian politics who believes that.  Peskov, because of his job as Putin’s spokesman, is obviously well-informed and well-connected.  He has worked for Putin continuously as his press officer ever since Putin was elected Russian President in 2000.  Undoubtedly he has Putin’s confidence and trust.

Having said this, Peskov is not a member of Russia’s Security Council, and he is not a member of Russia’s government.  This means that he is outside the circle of key decision makers.  That makes it all but inconceivable that he would have been allowed to run off with a madcap scheme to meddle in a US Presidential election, or that he would have been put in charge of it.  The important role in the affair the Trump Dossier attributes to him is a strong reason to doubt its truth.

Here is what Peskov had to say about the Trump Dossier

No, the Kremlin has no compromising materials on Trump.  This is absolutely fake information, a fabrication and complete nonsense. The Kremlin does not engage in gathering compromising materials.  This is called pulp fiction.

Peskov’s claim that “the Kremlin does not engage in gathering compromising materials” is of course untrue.  Like the intelligence services of all the other Great Powers, Russia’s are unquestionably active “gathering compromising materials” whenever they can.  Indeed if rumours are to be believed they are rather good at it.

Similarly Peskov’s claim that the Kremlin has “no compromising materials on Trump” or indeed (as he also said) on Hillary Clinton, needs to be taken with a strong dose of salt.  Russia’s intelligence community undoubtedly has lengthy files on both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, and it is not impossible that they contain material which both might find embarrassing.

However Peskov is certainly right to call the Trump Dossier “pulp fiction” and it can be said with confidence that any material about Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in the Russian intelligence community’s files has not appeared in it.

Other than this comment of Peskov’s the Russians have had surprisingly little to say about the Trump Dossier, possibly because it has erupted at the end of their Christmas holiday.

Putin himself – who has had a frenetic 2016, taking no holiday during the year, not even in the summer – seems to have finally taken time off during Christmas.  His website shows an absence of meetings and contacts with world leaders for more than a week after his New Year Address on 31st December 2016 until his meeting with the rector of the Higher School of Economics on 9th January 2017.

The fact that Putin seems to have taken more than a week off over Christmas however also reflects the fact that Moscow – as I discussed in my recent article about the city on the eve of the Christmas holiday  – somehow seems to be a whole world away from the whole swirling controversy.

The fact that the economic news at the start of the year has been good, with inflation for 2016 confirmed to have been just 5.4% – lower than predicted by even the most optimistic forecasts at the start of the year – is no doubt a major reason for the calm.  The sheer outlandishness of the claims in the Trump Dossier – making it difficult for anyone in Moscow to take it seriously – is almost certainly another.

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