Ideological aggression to be expected from ‘Putin: Operative in the Kremlin’


The Kremlin’s ‘active measures’ to undermine Western democracies mark a more aggressive step up from Russia’s earlier efforts to assert soft power, discussed here by Brookings analyst Fiona Hill.

Meanwhile, the decision to hire Hill for the position of White House senior director for Europe and Russia, is likely to earn bipartisan praise, Foreign Policy reports:

Hill, a dual U.S.-UK citizen and former U.S. intelligence officer from 2006 to 2009, has written critically of Putin’s autocratic tendencies and desire of a “weakened U.S. presidency.” “Blackmail and intimidation are part of his stock in trade,” she wrote in a column last summer.

Putin’s ideological aggression against western democracy “is very consistent with a Russian approach,” said Hill, who co-authored the book “Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin.” His displays of masculinity are important to Putin’s image domestically and connected to his aggression against his neighbors, she has argued.

“Through the prism of his time in the KGB, Putin, in particular, considered U.S. democracy promotion efforts in the 1990s and 2000s to be continuations of so-called ‘active measures’ from the Cold War,” she told a Congressional hearing.

Another distinctive characteristic of the Kremlin media control strategy is the importance of legal and economic methods in co-opting or weakening independent media outlets, analyst Maria Snegovaya wrote in Stifling the Public Sphere, a publication of the National Endowment for Democracy:

In their book on Putin, Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy stress his tendency to use formal documents to justify his actions, and there is some truth to the observation that the Kremlin often tries to hide behind legal rules while pursuing its political agenda. In what could be viewed as an extension of this pattern, whenever possible the leadership attempts to buy and tame independent media outlets rather than engaging in a direct crackdown.

“Putin initially tailored his presidential image for the Russian population of the late 1990s—the rank-and-file members of the Communist Party who lost an ideology and a country; the former Soviet factory workers and cooperative farmers who saw their livelihoods and identities disappear; the elderly who never got their pensions from the bankrupt state,” Hill contends. “This huge disenfranchised group looked back on Soviet times with nostalgia and saw only bad times ahead. Democracy—associated by many Russians with the economic degradation of the 1990s—became a tainted concept.”

Russia, she explained, has “always been an expansionist power—on the go all the time, not one to give up anything and concede anything,” Hill argues.

The recently-appointed National Security adviser HR McMaster appears to share Hill’s skepticism about prospects for a dramatic re-alignment in U.S.-Russia relations, at least judging by his recommendation that military cadets read the book “Putinism” by Walter Laqueur, noting that “It’s not a hagiography.”

“Those who believed the collapse of the Soviet Union signified the triumph of Western democratic capitalism were deluding themselves,” said Hill, a former National Intelligence Council official.

“A large number of Russians remained deeply skeptical of Western norms. It was only a very small elite around Yeltsin who were buying this,” she said. “Too many people (Westerners) saw what they wanted to see, rather than what was happening,” she told Reuters:

Then the global financial crisis strengthened a perception in parts of the world that Western democracy was failing – both politically and economically, Hill added.

Most in the West see NGOs as the essence of a democracy and liberal society—citizen groups engaged in promoting public goods such as human rights, environmental protection, education, civic engagement, noted a reviewer of the Hill-Gaddy book:

But for someone schooled in the lies, disinformation, dissimulation, and distrust of the KGB, and who sees the so-called color revolutions as destabilizing governments with which he could work, they are a different animal. …NGOs, indigenous and international, are viewed as fifth columns financed by western governments that are trying to undercut allied regimes and Putin’s authority. He views the presence of western NGOs as an invasion of Russian cultural and political space. Where the West sees democracy, Putin sees chaos and instability.

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