There is a new Russian word that is suddenly in vogue. If you haven’t heard it yet… Well, you’re about to. “Kompromat” may be destined to be one of 2017’s words of the year.
Russian words have entered the English vernacular in the past. Beyond “vodka,” there were “glasnost” and “perestroika” from the days Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, for example. The Russian words for “openness” and “restructuring” were buzzwords during Gorbachev’s attempt during the 1980s to remake the Soviet Union in order to save it. Students of military history know the word “maskirovka,” the Russian term for a military deception. “Kompromat” is a word that may contain elements of all three of these familiar words. It might also include vodka.
Kompromat is defined by NPR as “compromising material used to discredit rivals in politics or business or just settle personal scores.” In English, the term is roughly equivalent to “getting the dirt” on someone or “blackmail materials.” In the Russian usage, kompromat could be used for blackmail or it could simply be released to destroy someone’s reputation and career.
One example of the use of kompromat is the 1999 scandal involving Yuri Skuratov. Skuratov, Russia’s top prosecutor, had started an investigation of corruption in the Kremlin when a video showing him in a naked romp with two equally naked young women, neither of which was his wife, was broadcast on Russian television and eventually cost Skuratov his job. NPR notes that the scandal included a press conference by the man who was then head of the FSB, the successor agency to the KGB, Vladimir Putin.
This brings us to an English slang phrase: the “honey trap.” If you’ve ever read spy novels, you may be familiar with the term for using an attractive woman of loose morals to compromise a man who is the target of an intelligence agency. The “honey” typically seduces her target while her colleagues gather embarrassing pictures and videos to use for blackmail.
According to the Irish Times, during the Soviet era, most Eastern bloc hotels that catered to foreign travelers were equipped with rooms that were bugged to capture guests in compromising situations. One former Cold War hotel that was operated by Intourist, the Soviet tourism agency, in Estonia has even set up a museum that shows how the KGB spied on guests.
One such guest was Joseph Alsop, an American newspaper columnist who visited Moscow in 1957. Alsop became the victim of a gay honey trap after meeting a man at a party. The man turned out to be a KGB operative. After the pair had sex, the KGB blackmailed Alsop by threatening to release pictures of the act and ruining Alsop’s reputation if he didn’t cooperate by becoming an “agent of influence” for the Soviets. Instead, Alsop told the story to the US Embassy and hastily left the country.
One of the many former Intourist hotels is now the Moscow Ritz Carlton. This is the same hotel that Donald Trump stayed at in 2013 for the Miss Universe pageant and where he allegedly met with Russian prostitutes. It is safe to assume that if Mr. Trump engaged in any sexual hijinks while in Moscow that the FSB has photographic record.
With numerous sexual scandals and rumors already released about Donald Trump, it’s impossible to know what the effect of using an embarrassing video to blackmail or discredit him would be. It’s also impossible to say how holding back such a video while releasing Democrat emails would have affected the election.
There are certain to be further revelations in the unfolding scandal of Russia’s interference with the election. Given the close ties of many Trump appointees to Russia, there may be salacious kompromat on other members of new administration as well.