Russia’s threat to liberal democracy: Putin making world safe for autocracy


russia-europe-guardianWith the end of the Cold War and the expansion of NATO and the EU to virtually all of Central and Eastern Europe, liberal democracy seemed ascendant and secure as never before in history, notes Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and at the Freeman Spogli Institute at Stanford University.

Under the shrewd and relentless assault of a resurgent Russian authoritarian state, all of this has come under strain with a speed and scope that few in the West have fully comprehended, and that puts the future of liberal democracy in the world squarely where Vladimir Putin wants it: in doubt and on the defensive, he writes for The Atlantic:

Putin has been desperate to get out from under … sanctions so that his regime can thrive domestically and internationally. His goals appear to be twofold. First, he seeks to restore some form of Russian empire—with at least informal dominion over all the territories of the former Soviet Union—while forcing the West to accept this new balance of power and treat Russia as a superpower once again. Second, he seeks to invert Woodrow Wilson’s famous call to arms and instead “make the world safe for autocracy.” Democracy is his enemy. He is smart enough to know that he cannot undermine it everywhere, but he will subvert, corrupt, and confuse it wherever he can.

Germany’s domestic intelligence agency on Thursday reported a striking increase in Russian propaganda and disinformation campaigns aimed at destabilizing German society, and targeted cyber attacks against political parties, Reuters reports.

“There is growing evidence of attempts to influence the federal election next year,” said Hans-Georg Maassen, head of the BfV, Germany’s domestic intelligence agency citing “increasingly aggressive cyberespionage” against political entities in Germany.

disinformation150x150pxBerlin is now concerned that Germany will become the next focus of Moscow’s campaign to destabilize Western democracies as national elections approach next year, The New York Times adds.

“Based on the prevailing Russian strategy of hybrid influence and destabilization, which we have observed over time and for which we have facts, the government, officials and some political parties have become sensitized to this form of conflict,” said Wilfried Jilge, an expert on Ukraine and Eastern Europe with the German Council on Foreign Relations.

“Such suspicions are the result of observation and experience over the past year and a half,” Mr. Jilge said.

As for Moscow’s motivations in Germany, Eberhard Schneider, a professor of political science at the University of Siegen, has observed Russia’s propaganda tactics since the days of the Cold War, The Times continues. Ms. Merkel, he noted, was one of the strongest supporters of the sanctions against Russia for its annexation of Crimea and the war in eastern Ukraine. Mr. Putin has a strong incentive to undermine her.

RUSSIA DEZINFORMATSIYA“Germany is the most important power in the European Union,” he said. “If you can harm Germany and prevent that Merkel has a good outcome in the next election, that is in his interest.”

Alex Younger, who heads MI6, the UK’s foreign intelligence agency, said in a speech in London on Thursday (8 December) that one of his priorities was to counter “the increasingly dangerous phenomenon of hybrid warfare”, EUObserver adds. He did not name Russia directly, but he said that “hostile” states were trying to “further their aims” via “cyber-attacks, propaganda [and] subversion of democratic process”.

Geopolitics does not have to be a zero-sum game, adds Diamond, co-editor of the National Endowment for Democracy’s Journal of Democracy:

But great powers must recognize and defend vital interests. Having a Europe that is whole and free is a vital American interest. Enforcing the principle that established borders cannot be eviscerated by military aggression is a vital American interest—and nowhere more so than in Europe. Ensuring that an authoritarian Russian regime does not replicate its values and expand its power by subverting democracy in the heart of Europe is also a vital American interest.

The most urgent foreign-policy question now is how America will respond to the mounting threat that Putin’s Russia poses to freedom and its most important anchor, the Western alliance, he contends.


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