Over the last two decades, the Russian dictator Vladimir Putin has increasingly and systematically sabotaged freedom and democracy across Europe, Asia, and — more recently — the Americas. He has sown and widened divisions within the United States and other targeted countries by consistently supporting extremist political movements with cash, spies, and insidious cyberwarfare.
Putin’s audacious new Cold War has…
- Helped dangerous scoundrels seize and hold power in several countries;
- Weakened public confidence in democratic elections, leaders, and governments throughout the West; and…
- Destabilized military and economic alliances foundational to European and American peace and prosperity for more than 70 years.
The dictator’s stunning success owes everything to the West’s persistent refusal to notice these attacks, take them seriously, and respond effectively.
To their credit, most people know better. In a July 2018 Gallup poll, two-thirds of Americans described Russia as unfriendly or an enemy.
Unfortunately, partisanship badly distorts our threat perception: 75% of Democrats know Russia is hostile to the United States, compared to just 58% of Republicans. A disturbing 25% of Democrats mistake Russia for a friend or ally, while a whopping 40% of Republicans make the same error.
Plain facts can cure these delusions.
In his March 2018 State of the Nation speech, Putin boasted of developing an “invincible” new long-range nuclear “stealth missile” that can penetrate NATO missile defense systems. To drive the point home, the dictator showed a video depicting several Russian warheads targeting Florida. Putin’s audience spontaneously applauded your simulated nuclear annihilation.
Clearly, Russia is not our friend or ally.
What are the causes of this new Cold War?
Putin aims to regain the superpower status, territory, and global influence Russia lost when the Soviet Union dissolved.
But the West stands in the way. After the USSR folded, the NATO alliance expanded to shield most of eastern Europe from Russian reconquest. Since 2014, the US and the European Union have imposed economic sanctions to punish Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
Moscow lacks the capacity to beat the West militarily or economically. An oil-rich but underdeveloped country, Russia is best understood as Mexico with nukes.
However, as an ex-KGB spy, Putin knows dirty tricks can even the odds against a superior foe. Having annihilated liberty in Russia, he now attacks freedom and democracy in the West. Putin’s motives are less ideological than strategic. His new Cold War weakens the US, the EU, and NATO by dissolving the primary cultural glue uniting us: a shared heritage of political and economic liberty.
Putin’s success in sabotaging the West has vastly exceeded even his own expectations. With Russian support, extremist fringes in the US and Europe have grown into viable political movements or influential factions within mainstream parties. Win or lose, they paralyze the body politic in afflicted countries, and thereby increase Putin’s room for maneuver.
Russian sponsorship of the Brexit and Trump campaigns continues to pay Putin robust dividends. British and US politics remain discombobulated. The EU is damaged. And America no longer leads the West.
Last month in Helsinki, Trump could have put America first by calling out Putin for years of unrelenting Russian attacks on our democracy. Instead, the President of the United States cravenly affirmed Putin’s denials, figuratively groveling at the feet of a murderous despot.
No wonder the West is losing.