“Wag the Dog”. Presidential elections in the United States, as the main reason for the upcoming Russian-Ukrainian war in Eastern Europe in 2020

Daniel Bootman
4 min readAug 28, 2020

Barry Levinson’s cult film “Wag the Dog”, starring the inimitable Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman, was released on US screens in 1997. The plot of this satirical comedy is extremely simple. The American president is accused of sexual harassment on the eve of the election. In order to distract public attention from the scandal, political technologists imitate the military conflict in Albania, pull troops into the region and launch militaristic propaganda in the media. The information scam helps to solve a presidential candidate’s political problems. The talkative characters are getting dead, and in the film’s finale, a virtual war threatens to turn into a real military operation. But political technologists do not care about it anymore.

It’s funny that Levinson’s film became the background for the real sexual scandal of President Bill Clinton and Monica Lewisky in 1998. Clinton initiated the aggravation of the conflict around Iraq, having trying to distract the media attention.

After almost a quarter of a century, “Wag the Dog” could be repeated. And the role of “Albania” seems to have been taken over by Ukraine. This large post-Soviet state, located in Eastern Europe, has not been able to ensure progressive internal development since the fall of the USSR in 1991. The population of the western part of Ukraine traditionally sympathizes with Europe, and the eastern part — with Russia. The confrontation between East and West Ukraine provides a backdrop for unprecedented corruption of local government officials. After the overthrow of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014, the Western supporters came to power with the support of the EU and the United States. In turn, it provoked a revolt in eastern Ukraine that was supported by Russia. President Vladimir Putin brought his troops into Crimea and attached the peninsula to “Mother Russia”. In turn, the US began providing comprehensive assistance to official nationalist authorities in Kiev.

From the very beginning the former president of Ukraine, oligarch Petro Poroshenko linked himself with the Democratic Party of the United States, hoping to win Hillary Clinton in the 2016 elections. Even after Trump’s victory, he continued to focus on the Democrats, which paved the way for the famous corruption scandal involving Joe Biden’s son. Poroshenko’s defeat in the 2019 elections created a unique situation in Ukraine. The majority of the Ukrainian elite is focused on Democrats under Republican President Donald Trump. As we know, he does not have much sympathy for the new Ukrainian leader Vladimir Zelensky, as he is openly afraid to investigate the situation around Biden Jr., which may affect the outcome of the US elections. However, at the same time, Zelensky hates Poroshenko, and he reciprocates him. Attempts to prosecute Poroshenko for his corrupt acts during the presidency have brought Ukraine to the brink of another political crisis.

Under such conditions, an ideal situation emerges for another series of “Wag the Dog”. Joe Biden is objectively interested in distracting public attention from the conflict around his son, which will be found out by the Republicans. Poroshenko, in turn, is ready to help Biden, as he took part in this scandalous financial project. It is crucial that oligarch Poroshenko has real leverage over some of Ukraine’s paramilitary nationalist groups that could provoke a military conflict with the Russians. On the one hand, Ukraine’s war with Putin will help distract the American attention from the corruption scandal around Biden Jr. and, on the other hand, will put President Trump’s “pro-Russian” policy at risk.

All this could have been taken as conspiracy, if not the movements of the armed units of the Ukrainian nationalists loyal to Petro Poroshenko towards the Russian borders, recorded by local journalists. At the same time, the media, sympathetic to the Democrats, began to inflate the pre-war atmosphere around Crimea. For example, the radio Svoboda dedicated a whole series of programs to the possible Russian-Ukrainian conflict with characteristic titles as: “Water disaster is a pretext for war?”, “Will Ukraine be able to repel Russia’s attack?” etc. Obviously, a possible provocation at the border will cause a retaliatory strike by Vladimir Putin. It would have an explosion of anti-Russian sentiment in Ukraine, a new Maidan in Kiev and, perhaps, will lead to the fall of moderate president Zelensky’s power and the return of nationalist Poroshenko. Zelensky is unlikely to be able to prevent this, since he has never been able to take control of the Ukrainian power bloc during the year of his reign. Zelensky’s attempts to flirt with local nationalists (traditionally loyal to Poroshenko) not only reinforce but, on the contrary, weaken his position.

A new redistribution of power, a struggle between political and military Ukrainian groups, and Russia’s invasion could provoke a new strongest hotbed of tension in Eastern Europe. It is no secret that the dissatisfaction of the Ukrainian nationalists is caused not only by the Russian-speaking population of the country’s East, but also by the national Polish, Hungarian and Romanian minorities in its western regions. The attempts to solve ethnic problems by force of arms will have unpredictable consequences and, eventually, destabilize the EU, drawing NATO into the conflict, which will pose a real threat to continental stability.

Under these conditions, the attention of the world community should be carefully drawn to the situation in Ukraine. Timely suppression of provocations and border conflicts may help to prevent the outbreak of a new full-scale war in Europe.

Ardzil Turner. Canada