How to tame Putin


Vladimir Putin isn’t just undermining our democracy, he’s securing his own long-term power in Russia by destabilizing the West — a strategy that United States and Europe have been dangerously slow to understand and counteract, POLITICO’s Maura Reynolds reports:

That was the unnerving takeaway from a high-level working group POLITICO convened on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Sept. 19. Amid threats like North Korea, ISIS and surging right-wing populism on both sides of the Atlantic, we wanted to see what some of the smartest security minds from Europe and the U.S. would say if we put them in a room and let them speak candidly about the most dire security threats facing our continents.

“Putin wants to make the world safe for Russian autocracy, and that means he has to discredit democracy in principle, which he’s trying to do, and weaken Western institutions, which he’s also trying to do,’’ said one participant.

Other key takeaways from the conversation include:

  • Ukraine is the fulcrum of the struggle between Russia and the West. Whether Ukraine becomes a vassal state to Russia or succeeds in integrating into Europe is an “existential” matter for Russia and for Putin, one that will affect the legitimacy and longevity of his rule. “Russia has to win in Ukraine because a Europeanizing Ukraine is the end of Putinism — not the end of Russia, but the end of Putinism,’’ said one participant.
  • Putin’s hold on Russia may be more fragile than it appears. One reason is Western economic sanctions, which are biting and causing hardship to Russian businesses and ordinary citizens. Another is the dependence of Russia’s economy on fossil fuels at a time when oil prices are down and not expected to rebound soon….
  • The United States isn’t acting like the leader of the free world, and that’s a problem. “Both NATO and the U.N. were designed for strong U.S. leadership … and they’re not getting it,’’ one participant said. “They’re not getting it and they haven’t been getting it for a while.”

Skripnichenko  at the site of the assassination of Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov in central Moscow, Russia June 22, 2017. Courtesy via REUTERS

Russian opposition activist Ivan Skripnichenko (right) died after being attacked by a man angry he opposed Vladimir Putin. Over a month later, nobody has been arrested, his family can’t see his autopsy, and authorities say he probably died of heart disease, Reuters reports:

The assault on the 36-year-old father-of-two is one of a growing number of vicious attacks on opposition figures in the run-up to a presidential election in March which Putin, the incumbent, is widely expected to contest. Most activists do not believe that Putin or the Kremlin have a hand in the attacks, which have included caustic liquid being thrown in a victim’s eyes, a car being set alight, and, in one case, an activist being bashed over the head with an iron bar.

A new exhibition honoring British double agent Kim Philby is designed to reinforce Kremlin propaganda claims that “Western intelligence agencies have labored tirelessly to undermine Russia’s interests. This narrative has gained new force since street protests toppled Ukraine’s pro-Russian president in 2014,” The New York Times reports:

The Philby exhibition, which opened just a few days after the unveiling in Moscow of a giant statue in honor of the inventor of the Kalashnikov automatic rifle, is “all part of the drive to create a national idea that revolves around the military and special services,” said Mark Galeotti, a researcher on Russian security and intelligence issues at the Institute of International Relations in Prague……

Mr. Philby, Mr. Galeotti said, was indeed a lifelong enemy of fascism but “would be spinning in his grave” over his portrayal in Moscow as a defender of narrow Russian national interests. “This was a man motivated by Marxism, not by love of Russia,” he said. “Presenting him as a great Russian patriot is far from the truth.”

Pussy Riot member Nadya Tolokonnikova will take part in selected performances of a new production which “shows you what prison, prosecution of political activists and police oppression looks like,” the BBC reports.

Inside Pussy Riot plunges you into the totality of an authoritarian system – if you do not choose real democracy and participation, authoritarianism chooses you.”

“Russia: Time to Contain?”

The McCain Institute for International Leadership holds a discussion at the U.S. Navy Memorial, 701 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, D.C.

Panellists: Thomas Graham, managing partner at Kissinger Associates; David Kramer, senior fellow, Florida International University; Matthew Rojansky, director of the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute; and Evelyn Farkas, non-resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.

6 p.m. October 3, 2017

Further info: 202-601-4330 or RSVP

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