Why US-Russia spat is not a return to the cold war


After the cold war ended, the competition in ideas stopped, notes Peter Pomerantsev, author of ‘Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible.’ There was only one democratic capitalist model out there and only one future: globalisation, he writes for The Financial Times:

In democracies, political parties still had to “prove” they could manage globalisation better than their rivals, but this was about show rather than the battle of ideas. Whence the rise of the “spin-doctor”. In post-Soviet Russia, where there was no other party to defeat, “political technologists” managed the puppet theatre of pseudo-democracy… Then came the financial crisis and the populist revolt against globalisation in Europe and the US. In Russia, protests against Vladimir Putin in 2011 suggested that real economic progress would require political reform and tackling corruption — things the Russian president cannot and will not countenance. With the “future” out of the window, facts could be rejected too.

“Understanding the history behind this ‘post-truth’ world gives us a clue as to how to combat it,” Pomerantsev adds. “As European leaders confront the tide of propaganda emanating from the east and west and among the rising right at home, the real challenge is to develop a credible, that is to say fact-based, vision of the future.”

With Putin’s background as a career KGB officer, he takes a particular interest in operations dealing with that organization’s specialties of disinformation and manipulation, notes former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, the chairman of the New York-based Human Rights Foundation. The KGB is called the FSB these days, but under Putin it is as aggressive as ever in its mission of infiltrating and destabilizing the West, he writes for The Washington Post:

More aggressive, in fact, because Putin is not constrained by national interests or global alliances the way the Soviet leadership was. There is no consideration of what is or is not good for Russia, or for Russians, only what is best for him and his close circle of oligarch elites. The 2012 U.S. adoption of the Magnitsky Act, targeting Russian officials tied to criminal repression, was answered by banning the adoption of Russian orphans by Americans. Western sanctions over Putin’s illegal annexation of Crimea were met by boycotting many foreign goods, harming Russian businesses and consumers — to the perverse point of physically destroying thousands of tons of smuggled food in a country where many millions are battling hunger and poverty.

“Putin’s strategy is to get Russians to blame the free world by further punishing Russians himself,” adds Kasparov, the author of Winter Is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped. “This can be countered only by being for Russia, but against Putin.”

In its eagerness to combat terrorism, the West’s leaders should not allow themselves to be drawn into Russians’ surrealistic logic, analyst David Satter writes for Foreign Affairs (HT: FPI):

Islamist extremism is an ideology. It cannot be defeated only militarily. It needs to be discredited, which makes the tactics and principles that guide the struggle against it of paramount importance. It is for this reason that a partnership with Russia in the war on terrorism will be courting a crisis far worse than the one that already exists.

Sanctions should be part of a broader strategy toward Russia that recognizes Putin’s commitment to destabilizing and undermining the West, and that Putin’s Russia is not going away anytime soon. We have yet to see such a strategy emerge, notes analyst Anna Borshchevskaya, a former Penn Kemble fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy.

U.S. scholars and policymakers don’t agree that the United States is trying to overthrow Putin, notes Harvard University’s Yuval Weber, but they differ about what has prompted Russian expansionism, he writes for The Washington Post:

Realists, such as John Mearsheimer, Jack Matlock and Stephen Cohen, essentially argue that Russia is reacting to excessive NATO expansion into Central and Eastern Europe. These scholars define Russia’s interventionism as a self-help reaction to the West’s inability to constrain itself when Russia was in a weak position. By unsettling Europe’s balance of power and challenging Russia’s sense of security, NATO countries are reaping what they’ve sown.

By contrast, liberal scholars, such as Michael McFaul, Kathryn Stoner and Steven Sestanovich [a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy], tie Russia’s expansionism to domestic origins: trying to distract Russians from their dissatisfaction with rigged elections, corruption and, more recently, declining economic performance. In addition, they suggest that the Kremlin felt threatened when Ukrainian politicians launched economic and institutional reforms that made kleptocratic Russian leaders look bad — and so launched its diversionary war. RTWT

While the managed democracy system in Russia poses severe obstacles to a democratic opposition, Russian democrats also share responsibility for their poor showing in the September Duma elections, MEMRI reports. They failed to unite before the elections and even after their electoral debacle they continue to feud and will not unite around a single candidate in the 2018 presidential candidate. As a result many have despaired of the party route and are considering social movements or émigré activity, according to a Kommersant analysis of Russia’s democratic opposition.

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