I grew up in a world where democratic governments around the world sought to promote the idea of democracy globally. Russia was a country anxious to push socialism around the world while planning to take over countries and impose a totalitarian government under the ideology of Communism. China, until Nixon visited, was backward compared to Taiwan under the rule of westernized Chiang Kai-Shek. Times have changed if these outlooks were ever completely true. Both Russia and China have evolved, but they have an important similarity. Both have strong central governments. Russia experimented with democracy and abandoned all but a nod toward it. China suppresses most movement in a direction towards it.
This is background as I try to explain my belief that Russia did in the past and will continue attempting to corrupt our historic democratic government. I want to make it clear that I do not believe that Trump colluded with the Russians. While Russian plans already in place probably helped him win, their meddling is part of a much larger strategy. Their tactics have been copied by other bad actors around the world, now including China. China, however, has other strategic plans I will tackle later.
The narrative could start centuries earlier as Russian leaders sought to adopt the culture of Europe, or it could start in Dresden as the Soviet Union was failing. KGB agent Vladimir Putin was proud that his country and the United States ruled the world with only a few objections from that upstart, China. After the KGB was abolished, he became head of the FSB under Boris Yeltsin. He was elected President in 2000. After a corrupt election in 2018, he has signed legislation that will ensure that he can be president for life. His overriding goal as President has been to restore Russian world power. Using the techniques honed with the KGB and the FSB, he has constructed a powerful public persona which glides smoothly along with a calm, collected outward appearance.
Putin has experienced major setbacks in his quest for Russian power. The US, EU and NATO were skeptical and protective of the newer world order without a powerful Russia. Several of his initiatives toward the West were rebuffed even as nations that were part of the old Soviet Union were accepted into NATO. Then came the 2014 Winter Olympics at Sochi. Instead of a glorious triumph, the international community derided the preparations, and the Russians were accused of doping. The day the games ended; Russia invaded Crimea. The West retaliated with sanctions.
During the cold war, the western democracies, including in large part the US, competed with the Soviet Union to influence emerging countries and South/Central America with covert activity within their countries. It was expensive and slow to have impact. The techniques were honed by decades of practice. Technology began to assist and to expand the effort of agents.
I theorize that Putin ramped up any effort that Russia was already making throughout the world as he became more convinced that less aggressive measures were not restoring sufficient Russian power. No doubt that his cybersecurity apparatus, as well as the well-honed propaganda research and development which was already cementing his autocratic oligarchy domestically, helped him put a grand strategy into place. By convincing citizens to doubt the integrity of their government, using the actual uncertainties and political disagreements already in place, Russia could distract public attention from geopolitical matters and onto fierce nationalism with populist intentions. These actions were protected by our freedom of speech and our unregulated internet.
The Syrian civil war produced refugees who overwhelmed Europe’s ability to absorb them. Middle Eastern culture was already creating tensions with Europe. Using internet messaging to amplify the unrest was a cinch. Russia’s first triumph was Brexit, but their assault on American democracy had already begun. Our disagreements concerning the actions and demeanor of our current president are only signs of the success of their tactics to date. It will be up to us to see if his strategy eliminates democracy and the US as a major roadblock to his worldview.
Please note: this is first in a series of columns.
Linda Brugger, retired from the Air Force, leaning Democrat and community activist can be reached at IdahoAuthor@outlook.com. She welcomes feedback.
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