Six steps to counter Putin’s ‘asymmetric assault on democracy’



A new report warns of deepening Russian interference throughout Europe and concludes that even as some Western democracies have responded with aggressive countermeasures, the U.S has no strategic plan to bolster their efforts or safeguard the country from again falling victim to the Kremlin’s systematic meddling, AP reports:

[The] 200-plus page report sketches a bleak portrait of European nations besieged by Russian encroachment. It also cites years of cyberattacks, disinformation, clandestine social media operations, financing of fringe political groups, corruption and in the extreme, assassination attempts and military operations that destabilized fledgling democratic governments in the Ukraine and Georgia. The report leans heavily on open source information as well as staff interviews with European diplomats and government officials.

Labeling Russia’s activities an “asymmetric assault on democracy,” the report released by Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, lays blame directly on Putin for a “relentless assault to undermine democracy and the rule of law in Europe and the United States.”

The report delves into Vladimir Putin’s aggregation of power beginning nearly 20 years ago and cite what the authors call a history of “exploiting blackmail, fears of terrorism and war,” the Huffington Post adds:

They write that the Russian strongman has “made it a priority of his regime to attack the democracies of Europe and the United States” as such governments “present an attractive alternative to his corrupt and criminal rule.”

Under his leadership, watchdog groups say an estimated $24 billion has been pilfered from state resources by Putin and his oligarchs. At least 31 journalists have been killed inside Russia since he took power in 1999. And Russia has moved to attack countries including Georgia and Ukraine with military force and cyberwarfare.

The report also highlights Russia’s attempts to influence British democracy and the potential vulnerability of parts of the UK political system to anti-democratic meddling during the EU referendum, the Guardian adds:

The report…. pinpoints the way in which UK campaign finance laws do not require disclosure of political donations if they are from “the beneficial owners of non-British companies that are incorporated in the EU and carry out business in the UK”. This opacity, the report suggests, “may have enabled Russian-related money to be directed with insufficient scrutiny to various UK political actors”.

“Investigative journalists have also raised questions about the sources of sudden and possibly illicit wealth that may have been directed to support the Brexit ‘Leave’ campaign.” The UK Electoral Commission has already launched an investigation into the issue. The senators point out that Ukip and its then-leader, Nigel Farage, did not just fan anti-EU sentiment but also “criticised European sanctions on Russia, and provided flattering assessments of Russian President Putin”.

The “active measures” that Moscow is deploying are not new. The Soviet Union used similar tactics against the United States and its European allies during the Cold War, say Laura Rosenberger and Jamie Fly, Co-Directors of the Alliance for Securing Democracy. Putin has recommissioned these tactics and, crucially, he has weaponized new technological tools—tools intended by their creators to serve as empowering forces—to supercharge the attack on democratic institutions, they write for Democracy: a Journal of Ideas:

Furthermore, whereas during the Cold War the Kremlin had an interest in maintaining stability, today a weakened Russia is mainly interested in tearing down others around it, making it, in some ways, more dangerous than it was then. In April 2015, Lilia Shevtsova wrote in the [National Endowment for Democracy’s] Journal of Democracy that “unlike in Soviet times, there is no ideology on offer. Instead, the Kremlin and its minions are working ‘to sow confusion via conspiracy theories’ and to spread disinformation with a view to eroding journalistic integrity...

They enumerate six steps to secure democracies against these threats:

  • First, the strength and security of democracy must be understood as a national-security issue, and we must resume treating it as such. Functioning democratic institutions are essential to the ability to protect national interests, continued economic growth, and our ability to project power globally…
  • Second, we need a coordinated approach to dealing with these challenges both within the United States and with its democratic partners and allies around the world. …
  • Third, we need to take steps to strengthen ourselves so we are less vulnerable to interference in the first place. Some of these are long-term efforts of reducing polarization, reversing the fracture of civil discourse, and halting the corrosion of institutions from within. …
  • Fourth, government action alone is not enough, and technology companies have an especially important role to play. Silicon Valley’s interest should be in preserving technology’s application for advancing the greater openness and prosperity that they have always championed. …
  • Fifth, we need to not only get on top of this threat, but get ahead of it so that we are prepared to deal with the threats of tomorrow and identify vulnerabilities before they are turned against us. …
  • Finally, we need to remind people why democracy is essential to their lives, and why attempts to undermine it present a serious threat….


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