How Russia Meddles Abroad for Profit: Cash, Trolls and a Cult Leader

Madagascar has little obvious strategic value for the Kremlin or the global balance of power. But Russians were there during an election, offering bribes, spreading disinformation and recruiting an apocalyptic cult leader.


Comments: 68

  1. Russia, Trump, Republicans. What part of this tripartite oligarchy don't you get? VOTE!

  2. You are a great conspiracy theorist. The Mueller report found no evidence of collusion, and Trump has harmed Russia and its allies, including Venezuela, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and others, but you still think he is a Russian agent? You sound like Alex Jones in liberal form.

  3. I’ll remind everyone that we (the United States) have meddled and continue to meddle in other countries affairs, including elections, for well over 100 years. You can’t have a problem with something if you are doing it to and you should expect the same to be done to you.

  4. @Jim The article is about meddling in Madagascar one of the poorest and most corrupt countries on earth, targeted by the Russians for financial interests and the subject of blatent misinformation/destabilization tactics-- the implications regarding equally poor and fragile countries don't frighten or bother you? It should, forget about what the US does or doesn't do for a minute.

  5. @DS - "(Iraq) one of the poorest and most corrupt countries on earth, targeted by (the Bush/Cheney Neocons) for financial interests and the subject of blatent (sic) misinformation/destabilization tactics-- the implications regarding equally poor and fragile countries (in the Middle East) don't frighten or bother you?"

  6. @DS The two concerns are not mutually exclusive. Of course what Russia is doing should be condemned, but Jim is absolutely correct in making the comparison with America's similar and more egregious interference around the world. Sorry DS, I am not prepared to forget that ugly truth even "for a minute."

  7. Russian is so corrupt that Russian officials were victims of their own corrupt employees. Now there is some justice.

  8. The Russians are the tip of the spear when it comes to late-stage, capitalist nihilism. Those who are committed to the current economic system, whether they are named Vladimir Putin or Michael Bloomberg, would rather murder the entire world in the course of their eventual suicides than ever countenance the slightest diminution of their power.

  9. Comparing Bloomberg to Putin is a huge disservice to this conversation. You may have valid criticisms of Bloomberg but he hardly can be compared to a man who literally kills dissent and dissenters.

  10. The problem is our own arrogance that it couldn’t happen to us.

  11. It's scalable and reproducible and has verifiable success in multiple countries - the perfect product for every party that wants to stage a takeover.

  12. A good story about how elections are thrown to install kleptocrats in order to line the pockets of oligarchs. No matter what some may say about how this is the new normal, the sad truth is Madagascar is a beautiful, resource rich, rapidly deforested, intensely poor nation. There are people - ecosystems in the balance here. The picture of people selling bushels of charcoal to one another is story that deserves real attention. Since the French this wonderful island has been the play thing of other nations. Neo-colonialism by new means?

  13. The strategic value comes from any country being one more stone on the heap of disruption.

  14. Substitute "The United States" for "Madagascar" in this article and it would be an accurate description of our 2016 presidential election

  15. @paul gottlieb And almost certainly our 2020 election, especially if trump has anything to say about it.

  16. "In dollar terms, Russia is no match for China or the United States, which have tens of billions of dollars worth of economic investment in the continent. But for some leaders in search of a political edge, Russia has developed a handy tool kit, which is where Mr. Prigozhin comes in". Russian capitalism is becoming more and more like our own but is still small potatoes. The NYT has left it unclear whether these Russian operatives were working for the Russian government or this was an operation funded by the Prigozhin economic complex. Our multi-national corporations act this way overseas without direct government involvement but with its knowledge.

  17. This is Russia's proving ground. They develop their strategies here, strategies that will be used elsewhere (like HERE) to disrupt governments and nations and strengthen THEIR spheres of influence. OUR 2016 election was a trial run, and Putin was very successful for pocket change. Next year he will rollout everything he has learned from 2016 here and elsewhere and make 2016 look like a romp in the park. Trump is salivating, counting his "Towers" and Russian loan quid pro quo for helping them destroy our country. Expect even more division as trolls feed racism, xenophobia and hate/fear-mongering. In spite of Trump, our country is still ok, but barely. If we continue to believe Trumpian/Repiublican lies we are lost - handing everything over to Putin and autocracy omg a silver platter. I hope we are smarter than that.

  18. Interesting article. But it forgot to mention what the U.S. was doing. Are we supposed to think that U.S. intelligence and diplomatic agencies were unaware of all this? Did nothing? For or against? (Maybe there was news about USG comments, but I missed it.)

  19. Is there anything our intelligence agencies were able to do about this? Or do we just consider Madagascar a lost cause? Also how is an indicted criminal allowed to roam the earth, freely attempting to throw elections everywhere, and destroy hope. Weird. Ugly. Scary.

  20. It is amazing that Russia with an economy not much greater than Spain's is competing against the big boys China and the US in Africa. I suppose this operation was relatively small beer and cheap and maybe it secured and protected the chromium investment.

  21. Fantastic article based on great reporting. It would be nice to see equivalent effort by other reporter to determine the actual relationship between Putin, Wikileaks, and the Trump campaign.

  22. Since Russia’s accusing the west of ‘pressuring, bullying and blackmailing the governments of sovereign African countries’ we need a counter-propaganda plan. What’s happened to VOA?

  23. Another step by Vladimir Putin to restore Russian prominence and influence on the world stage. Meeting with the Saudi leadership, attending a conference on African matters just recently and now this. We are just seeing the beginnings of Mr. Putin's grand plans. He will use and exploit anyone, any organization or any country to advance Russian interests. We used to have Presidents that were concerned about Russian activities and meddling such as described here. They would consider this matter a top priority of their foreign policy and intelligence agenda. But as we currently have a President that bows down to Mr. Putin this matter means nothing to him. I wonder if Donald Trump even knows that Madagascar is a country.

  24. Scared of Putin’s new methodology for taking over the world? Cheaper, more effective, and less destructive than hot war, it’s also more easily portable and can be waged quickly and on multiple fronts. The US used similar strategies 100 years ago and now Coca Cola is everywhere. World domination on the cheap. What’s not to like, Ivan?

  25. With each one of these election interventions, Putin perfects his techniques and power to put into power specific people, using Mafioso tactics, whether it is to install favorable autocrats who will do his bidding, to extend and outsize Russia’s power and influence, or for pure profit. Putin installed Trump, continues to pull strings on foreign policy. Trump, Pence, his entire cabinet and Supreme Court and judicial appointees are all illegitimate. Trump, with so much more on the line (like trial and imprisonment for a long career of criminal activity including tax fraud, money laundering, campaign finance offenses, sexual assault, obstruction of justice, witness tampering, colluding with foreign powers, extortion, bribery), will go even further to steal the election in 2020, and now will use the considerable and vast powers of the presidency to do it.

  26. 1. And of course, we, the US, do not do any of this. With 800 military bases worldwide, we just bomb an send the troops. Read Daniel Immerwhar "How to Hide an Empire." 2. The effect of Russian interference in the 2016 elections was minuscule compared to the tsunami of money from US oligarchs into election campaigns and the wrecking of the voting acts act. Look at Bezos money in the recent elections in Portland, OR. In this case he failed. 3. Read the paper by Gillens and Page: 70% of the electorate in the US has absolutely NO influence on any policy. Why vote? 4. Why is money so effective in elections? The uneducated public, who votes, is too easily hoodwinked. No ruling class ever wanted a well informed, engaged electorate of critical thinkers. The fathers of the Nation did not want democracy.

  27. How sad is that, Russia seemingly content in remaining an 'evil empire', not content in having humiliated so many countries into submission in the not so distant past, now tries to do so surrepticiously, to distract the deep inequalities betweet Putin's oligikleptocracy and the vast majority of Russians at home, left holding the bag. Not that the U.S. is an innocent bystander, as it has it's history of neocolonization as well, and inequalities galore. But at least there is freedom of the press (however much vulgar Trump calls it 'the enemy of the people'), and an attempt to keep government's branches to check, and balance, each other, for justice to show up. Oh well, a democracy on trial. Even so, infinitely better than Russia's bullying the world...as if there was no tomorrow.

  28. How much irony will we find in the future that the NYT makes so much of interference in this election but doesn't mention the likelihood of US - CIA involvement in the chaos in Bolivia? Latin America has been the US' Madagascar since the Spanish American US Corporate War of 1898. Have we already forgotten Hillary Clinton's role in the Honduran coup and the performance-art coup in Venezuela just recently? Let us also not forget the strong likelihood of US - CIA involvement in the Ukraine coup of 2014, after which Russia seized parts of Ukraine and, most importantly, began its campaign to upset the 2016 elections. Those who live in glass houses shouldn't throw Molotov or CIA cocktails.

  29. @Doug Paterson: Good points - and of course Iran, we did a lot of good there, didn't we? And Afghanistan, where we effectively set up the Taliban... Nonetheless: While we definitely should clean up our own act(s), it is well to be aware of Putin's regime's activities, and we must take note for our own elections next year.

  30. Seems to be a new age for spies and lies. I wonder how Russian taxpayers enjoy having their hard-earned money flung about the world to ensure the faux-election of leaders sure to also fleece and imprison their own people. Russia under Putin is actively engaged in destroying democracy as a system of law, hope, and rule around the world. Russia is an outlaw nation and should be sanctioned, have tariffs imposed on its oil and other goods,and have its diplomatic visas revoked.

  31. They don't have a huge economy and do whatever they can to ride other nation's coattails, etc. Putin's actions remind me of Hitler's theft of so much great European art for his "museum" as if it's possible to do such thing in the long run.

  32. Can we dispense with the word “meddles”? - how about “undermines”, “sabotages”, “attacks”? “Meddles” is a weak, vague word and does not capture the seriousness of the Russian cyber war insurgency. Their tactics are war by different means, not “meddling”.

  33. It's pretty clear that US intelligence agencies know of Prigozhin's travels, and likely that special ops could capture him and bring him to the US for trial. Is Trump blocking this from happening?

  34. @JF I think your question answers itself.

  35. Akin to a pre-season Lakers game held in London against the St. John's Wood YMCA. Not at all competitive, but it allows L.A. to work out some of its kinks before the NBA season begins.

  36. This is so depressing. Imperialism has been replaced by globalism and still the people suffer.

  37. The US would never do this in another country for profits.

  38. @Jean-Paul Marat , please provide an example if it is so obvious?

  39. @DoctorRPP Chile. Ukraine. Bolivia. Venezuela. Honduras. Libya. Russia. Congo. Ecuador. Iran. Nicaragua. Argentina. Italy. Serbia., and the list goes on.

  40. At a certain point the martyr complex embraced by the NY Times about Russian election interference in both the U.S. and abroad becomes tiresome and enormously hypocritical. The United States, via both government and private means, has been interfering in the affairs of foreign countries for decades. This interference is often most acute during election campaigns, or in the leadup to them. The examples are numerous, with both Republican and Democratic administrations at the helm. And they are ongoing today in nations both close and far away. Maybe everybody should just mind their own business? But, that would likely put a dent in profits.

  41. If Graham Green and Tom Sharpe had sat down together with vast quantities of whatever mind altering substance they could agree on, they could never have come up with a plot weirder than this.

  42. It has to be said that the US and European countries do this also. The whole WTO is about richer countries getting their hands on the resources of poorer countries, taking the profits, and leaving terrible conditions behind.

  43. @AlennaM --Olena, perhaps you have an example from the last 4 decades? Do you know who are the largest foreign investors in the natural resources of China and Iraq? China and Russia? How did Europe and the US take those profits?

  44. ...that should read the largest extractors of natural resources in Iraq and AFGHANISTAN are China and Russia. It is no longer the 1970s...please give examples of the US fighting wars to extract natural resources??

  45. "Madagascar has little obvious strategic value for the Kremlin or the global balance of power" is a rather short-sighted view of obvious strategy by an empire that want s to make a come-back. What the Bear is seeking to do is pick up an entire island for a cheap price and use it as a building block. One could have said exactly the same thing about the United States in the 1890s when it took Cuba out f the hands of the Jose Marti's insurrection on the verge of defeating the Spanish. The USA's control of Cuba made the next step of the Panama Canal apparent as a means of establishing bases in Hawaii and the Philippines, all for a song. Anybody remember the bankrupt 'domino theory' justifying the Viet Nam war as a means to surround China? Empires try to pick the weak spot, fruit for the plucking. A Russian base in the Indian ocean is quite valuable, n'est-ce pas? Russia, since the break-up of the Soviet Union, is trying to stage a come-back. The salient point for the Eagle is that the isolationist trend led by the president readily capitulates and opens doors to the Bear, witness the latest events in Syria.

  46. What are Rubio and Ted Cruz doing in Bolivia then?

  47. Please spare us your wry "both sides do it" observations. We're the good guys, remember? Russia is not our friend. Russia spreads tyranny and corruption like typhoid Mary spread disease. Putin is a KGB man, an oligarch, a kleptocrat, an assassin, and a tyrant. And Trump kisses up to him. Trump will do nothing to stand in his way. Putin is attempting to take over the world, using cyber war and spy craft. He is succeeding.

  48. 1) This piece tries to inflame further the US opinion that Russia is worthless. But, instead being angered, one is bored. This is the way states extend their influence and power abroad. We overthrew Iran's democratic regime, and installed the Shah in 1953. Ditto for Guatemala a year later. Some way stations were Santa Domingo, Chile, Nicaragua, until the Maidan Uprising in Ukraine 2014. In the latter, our Deputy Assistant Secretary of State was taped while conspiring to pick the members of the new "independent" government. And of course, we are filled with admiration for the murderous exploits of Mossad in other people's countries. 2) The Mueller Report tells us that Russia influenced or even stole our election with 100,000 bucks of Facebook ads. Madagascar's population is less than a tenth of the US'. So, Russia should have taken Madagascar for no more than a tenth of its US expense, or 10,000 bucks. Some actual Russian expenses: backpacks stuffed with cash to bribe dropouts, a newspaper, TV ads, billboards everywhere, paid young people and journalists for rallies. This cost a lot more than 10 grand. A lot more than the 100 grand that supposedly elected Trump. Put a picture of Trump on your wall, and next to it a sheet of paper with "$100,000" printed on it. Look at them each time you pass by. Think about Madagascar. Do you really believe the Mueller Report? 3) "Former oil billionaire"? Huh? ---Khodorkovsky is a former Oligarch. But who's counting?

  49. @alyosha thanks for this. I'm glad I'm not the only one left wondering why the liberal media has turned McCarthy against the natural ally the US has in Russia. The greatest mistake was allowing China to join the WTO. They're the enemy and that's how they see the US as well.

  50. @alyosha ah, yes, alyosha, "we." more russian false equivalencies. more russian whataboutism. alyosha is a liar. look how casually he/she tries to pretend that the USA had anything to do with the half a million brave ukrainians who braved cold, hunger, and bullets to demand an accountable government on the maidan. while russian trolls will point to the nuland phone call in which a us diplomat does nothing more than express her desired outcome in the ongoing events (an outcome that notably DID NOT COME TO PASS), there has been precisely zero actual evidence come to light that suggests that the Ukrainian revolution of dignity was anything but what it was: a grassroots effort by the people to throw off their spectacularly corrupt president who had cooked the books and robbed the country blind.

  51. There is an old proverb about the Russian spirit. It involves a farmer being so angry at his neighbor (having more cows than him) that he poisoned the water hole so all the cows died, his included. Seems the Russian spirit at work on democracy requires them to try to spoil it everywhere. Putin is like a bizarro world Bush trying to bring anti-democracy to the world. If Hegel was right, what is the synthesis?

  52. Wait. Are you sure it wasn't Ukrainians posing as Russians?😎

  53. Russia "meddles", the United States "meddles", the former Soviet Union "meddled", Israel "meddles".....etc. This is akin to a story proclaiming "Humans Need Oxygen For Survival" Is the NYTimes unaware of history? February 24, 2015 "Spy cables allege US meddling in African Union election" February 1, 2019 "How Washington Got on Board With Congo’s Rigged Election" September 27, 2012 "What Netanyahu's meddling in US election means for Obama, Romney, and diplomacy" July 15, 1996 "Yanks to the Rescue! The Secret Story of How American Advisers Helped Yeltsin Win" And many many more examples are readily available for hours of entertainment.

  54. "Cash, Trolls and a Cult Leader"... ...sounds like what happened here in the good old US of A Maybe Madagascar is just for practice?

  55. “How Russia Meddles Abroad for Profit: Cash, Trolls and a Cult Leader” Even if the Russians aren’t looking to smuggle rare hardwood timber out, or gain geopolitical heft in Madagascar, they need to hone their skills somewhere. A good team practices, after all, the big game is coming up. Two of em if we include Brexit. With smart Russians like Gary Kasparov warning us loudly for years now, it’s beyond surprising that the average American citizen and his newspaper or his representative, still dismiss Russia casually with a little hand wave. Eventually we’ll get it right, but will it be in time to save our democracy?

  56. @RjW 100% correct

  57. Good thing my Senator McConnell doesn’t want a vote on election security. How would he win without the extra campaign help??

  58. “‘We see how a number of Western governments have resorted to pressuring, bullying and blackmailing the governments of sovereign African countries,’ Mr. Putin said before the meeting.” The irony here is truly first rate.

  59. Shouldn't Russia be attending to their own problematic country instead of being malevolently malicious? (Big "ditto" for the United States of America, frankly.)

  60. Thanks for the moral equivalence.

  61. If you cannot create your own economy through diversity and innovation, you exploit weaker countries for their resources. It is an ugly game but one mastered by the UK. The blue print is there to be exploited and Africa, like Venezuela, is Russia’s new frontier. Relying on oil alone for their home grown industry means that they will surely fail as a country in the long run.

  62. Sounds like USAID. Guess they learned from the best. Too bad they don't have dedicated radio stations promoting their preferred candidate. That works too.

  63. If all just focused on how to win an election vs coming up with an excuse why you cant. Russians are like white noise......

  64. While what Russia is doing to meddle in elections is deplorable, Americans should take care not to be self-righteous or sanctimonious about it. The US has been doing it for a century.

  65. Ironic that so many excuse Russia's interference in elections by describing U.S. history in Latin America, Iran, Chile, etc. I guess the point is that our past misdeeds make the Russian interference in our elections just desserts. Interesting viewpoint.

  66. Madagascar is a beautiful country and people and I thank the journalists for putting this piece together. Many of us were there during the AIDS pandemic and it devastated much of the economy and those of East and South Africa. Preying on weaker nations is criminal and shows just how small and reprehensible Putin is as a leader. He is nothing more than a small time hood bent on causing as much chaos to those he covets, those enviable states he cannot compete with. He will not survive. America is NOT like Russia as some comments have implied. We are the most generous people on the planet. Everywhere you go, whether Madagascar or in other African nations there are Americans setting up water and sanitation projects and health clinics; they are studying the rich bio-diversity of the island and educating the outside world in just how to help it’s people to thrive. Russian leadership is parasitic. Its’ economy will not last because its’ leader has no vision. The Russian people will refuse stagnation. It is only a matter of time, which is why Americans need to push back against his little tool, Trump.

  67. But didn't the US do this to Latin American countries before?

  68. “The Russians even recruited an apocalyptic cult leader in a strategy to split the opposition vote and sink its chances.“ Not surprising. Might as well have fun when meddling. The tactics were remarkably similar to those deployed here in the US. May I recommend a film? It’s called “ A Face in the Crowd “