In Moscow, the State Department’s offer of $10 million in exchange for evidence of Russian election interference rang hollow. The move was perceived not as a shark bite, but rather as a toothless scowl of the Trump administration—nothing more than an election-year propaganda stunt.
“Desperate much?” crowed the Kremlin-funded media outlet RT. “The State Department website will now be overwhelmed by people ratting out their neighbors,” quipped Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova. For the benefit of Western audiences, Russian officials and state-sponsored media outlets mocked the idea of such a “bounty” as a ridiculous proposition—but on a domestic front, the State Department’s initiative was met with an obvious pushback, to make sure that no one gets any ideas.
State-controlled Russian media sprang into action, laboring to dissuade any potential takers of the tempting reward. Deputy of the Russian Duma Timofey Zhukov, who reported receiving a bounty text message mass-mailed by the State Department, appeared on Russia’s state TV news talk show 60 Minutes to deter Russian citizens from implicating the Kremlin. Zhukov exclaimed: “Russia is not for sale!”
“Simply put, this is an offer to become a snitch, a rat,” noted Olga Skabeeva, 60 Minutes host. She asked: “Would you sell your Motherland for 10 million dollars?”
For any Russian who might be nonetheless enticed by the promised payout, Skabeeva had another message: “Dear Russians, please, don’t write anything to anyone.” She proceeded to elaborate that since the United States never paid the promised $25 million reward for the capture of Osama bin Laden, the State Department wouldn’t come through in this instance either. This talking point was echoed by multiple participants of 60 Minutes.
Notably, the State Department’s report on Russian disinformation specifically referenced the program 60 Minutes. The inclusion had the host Skabeeva beaming with pride.
“It would be useless to initiate contact with them and they probably won’t send any money. I think this is nothing more than an act of propaganda, aiming solely to demonstrate that the United States is standing up against Russian and Chinese pressure,” opined journalist Dmitry Galkin. When he dared to express his willingness to even think about divulging such information, Skabeeva promptly accused Galkin of treason. Military expert Igor Korotchenko exclaimed that Galkin should be escorted out in handcuffs.
Alexei Naumov, an expert from the Russian International Affairs Council, asserted that by offering this bounty, the State Department is acting in the interests of the Russian Federation. Naumov suggested that the Kremlin could offer up a random individual who is not connected with the Russian government, prosecute that person for interfering in American elections, collect the reward and call it a day. Skabeeva disagreed that it would be possible to disassociate such a person from the Russian government and angrily described Naumov and Galkin as “potential traitors” in the studio. She proceeded to remind everyone of the protracted term of imprisonment that would await such a person.
Ivan Konovalov, director of the Center for Strategic Trends Studies, argued that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo should be sued and sanctioned: “This is an inducement to treason!” To emphasize the point, the text of Article 275 of the Criminal Code of Russia was shown on the screen, describing treason as "espionage, disclosure of state secrets, or any other assistance rendered to a foreign State, a foreign organization, or their representatives in hostile activities to the detriment of the external security of the Russian Federation.”
Russian MFA’s Zakharova mocked the State Department’s proposition, but the wording of her written commentary carried ominous overtones. Zakharova pointed out that anyone divulging information would be giving it not to the Department of State, but to America’s intelligence agencies. She noted that Pompeo formerly served as the director of the CIA and warned that the United States is seeking to harvest personal data of the Russians.
Zakharova disingenuously claimed that after the 2016 elections, “neither American prosecutors nor judges found the ‘Kremlin's hand’, no one found it.” In reality, Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation determined that “the Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion,” establishing that “the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts...”
Russia’s preference for the Trump presidency hasn’t changed, which was reiterated in Friday’s statement from William Evanina, director of the United States National Counterintelligence and Security Center, who noted that “Russia is using a range of measures to primarily denigrate former Vice President Biden” and “some Kremlin-linked actors are also seeking to boost President Trump’s candidacy on social media and Russian television.”
Russian propagandists are disturbed by the potential impact of the State Department’s anti-meddling efforts on Biden’s candidacy—and Russia as a whole. “This is an attempt to destabilize our country,” stressed 60 Minutes host Skabeeva. Political commentator Sergey Strokan pointed out that complaints and reports that might be sent to the State Department could reveal information about democracy, human rights violations and other issues plaguing Putin’s Russia. Strokan described the potential stream of data as “Klondike gold for Biden,” who—unlike Trump—seeks to confront and pressure the Kremlin.
The Kremlin, indeed, has much to hide—but some think that Russian interference in the U.S. elections is nothing to be ashamed of. During the 60 Minutes broadcast, Leonid Kalashnikov, senior lawmaker of the Russian State Duma, asserted that Russia should be loud and proud about its efforts: “Yes, we can do it. We have our intelligence services, we have our propaganda. We have smart people, journalists, who influence the minds and the people—and let’s not be shy about it and say that we aren’t influencing anybody. We are and we will continue influencing them.” Skabeeva loudly chimed in: “And we won’t sell the Motherland for 10 million dollars!”