aNewDomain Politics — Cheered on by American conservatives, Russia has executed a clever multi-faceted campaign to extend its influence and territorial control. Not only is it invading its neighbors, but it’s attempting to alter the course of an American presidential election.
For much of the past 100 years, Russia’s actions have terrified Americans, particularly conservative Americans. No longer.
This time around, if not actively cheering on Vladimir Putin, conservative Americans appear to care less.
Let’s review the elements of Russia’s intricate plan:
- It is invading neighbors having Russian minority populations (so far Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova), and claiming that the activities have been motivated by rebels within the Russian minority population, even though many of the soldiers are active duty Russian troops using Russian equipment.
- It’s conducting an all-out cyberwarfare campaign to meddle in the U.S. presidential campaign to promote the most pro-Russian candidate, if not attempting to undermine faith in democratic government itself.
- It’s engaging in a public relations campaign among American conservatives to promote Vladimir Putin.
- It’s harrying NATO and allied naval and air forces, possibly in a run-up to a hot war.
- It’s moving at least some nuclear weapons to more forward positions.
- And Russia is training troops for combat in Syria while also shoring up an ally.
On Friday, the U.S. State Dept. officially accused the Russians of meddling in the U.S. presidential election on behalf of Donald Trump. Ironic that the Russians would back the party of Reagan-McCarthy-Goldwater, no?
On Saturday, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany’s foreign minister, said that tensions between Russia and the West were “more dangerous” today than they were during the Cold War. The German foreign minister said he was dismayed over the collapsing relations between the West and Russia.
Among other things, Steinmeier noted that Russia is deploying nuclear missiles in Kaliningrad. Before WWII, Kaliningrad was a German city named Konigsberg and served as the capital of east Prussia. After the war, the city and its surrounding area became Russian. The territory is sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic Sea. These are areas that cannot be reached directly from the rest of Russia, except by sea.
Check out the video below. Produced by Russian television last year as a “tongue-in-cheek response” to a comment made by Poland’s president, it doesn’t seem so funny anymore.
The grown-ups in the West’s military establishment have not been unaware of Russia’s actions, and they’ve taken steps to counteract them. Among other things, nearly 500 Canadian soldiers are being relocated to Latvia to form a sort of tripwire in case the Russians invade.
Latvia is already a member of NATO, so a Russian attack on NATO should trigger the collective defense obligations of the other 27 member states. With Donald Trump’s recent questioning about whether the Baltic states were worth defending, it makes good sense to station Canadians there.
The American public might not care if Russian security police are torturing Latvian nationalists, but they might wince at the sight of bloody Canadian bodies slain on a battlefield defending an ally’s freedom.
Russia’s Plot to Meddle in the U.S. Presidential Election
The Soviet Union does not appear to have attempted to meddle directly in any U.S. presidential election before, at least based on information publicly available.
But who knows what is still classified?
The Soviet Union’s meddling seems to have been limited to the $1 billion that it apparently spent in shoring up various “peace” movements in the West. This effort was to undermine the West’s will to fight. Ironically, the U.S. decision to ramp up the war in Vietnam probably succeeded in sapping Western strength far better than anything the Soviets covertly did.
When I attended a Trump rally in February, I was somewhat surprised by the number of “Putin for President” T-shirts I saw for sale, especially since the Trump organization seems to have controlled the products offered for sale. In the crowd of die-hard conservatives, I heard not a single discouraging word about Putin and many complimentary ones.
While the Soviets never unveiled a plan to meddle in a U.S. presidential election, the Americans have already done this themselves. The goal of Watergate dirty tricks was to present Richard Nixon with the weakest possible Democratic opponent. Nixon’s plan succeeded, as his strongest opponents were slowly eliminated through various orchestrated events, leaving George McGovern as his opponent.
Of course, the Russians can’t copy Nixon’s plan in its entirety because Nixon’s plan was to pick an opponent who was guaranteed to lose. The Russian’s plan is presumably to meddle in events to enable their man to win. That’s a little more difficult.
I wonder how long Russian intelligence has been meddling in the campaign on behalf of Donald Trump? Surely, they must have played a role during the primaries. It would be sort of foolhardy to simply wait until the general election before manipulating events on behalf of their preferred candidate.
We can probably expect Russia’s unwitting or quite-willing allies at WikiLeaks to post as many anti-Clinton materials as can possibly be found or convincingly manufactured prior to the election. I have no idea whether WikiLeaks willingly aids Russian interests purposefully or by accident — but you will find nothing adverse to Russian interests on the website. Nothing.
If Russian intelligence doesn’t succeed in electing Trump, it may well succeed in undermining American’s already-dwindling faith in democratic government. It’s unlikely that a totalitarian U.S. government would be more to Russia’s liking, but an interval of instability would likely be very beneficial to Russia.
Russia’s Tough Century
The past century has been a tough one for Russia. From the suicide of Russian Imperial General Alexander Samsonov following the destruction of his army at the Battle of Tannenberg to the dismantling of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, Russian influence has been in retreat, excluding a brief resurgence in the 1930s and again in the 1960s.
Russia today is a smaller country than it was at the beginning of World War I in 1914. Two world wars have cost the Russians at least 40 million deaths.
In the aftermath of the Russian revolution in 1917, countries from around the globe sent soldiers to intervene in the revolution and conduct military operations on behalf of various anti-Soviet factions. These foreign troops included a contingent of U.S. Marines. In the accompanying photo, Japanese imperial troops are shown saluting a column of U.S. Marines marching through Vladivostok, Russia.
The foreign troops finally left Russia in 1922. Russia was invaded again by Nazi Germany less than 20 years later with devastating effect.
It stands to reason that the Russians might be a little sore about what’s happened in the last 100 years. One could assume that at least some Russians would like to see the country’s influence re-established and possibly even expanded.
The American public’s ignorance of Russian anger makes the situation even more dangerous. Pearl Harbor was the result of the last time the U.S. underestimated a competitor.
Frustrating Putin’s Plans
The irony of the current situation is that the whole Russian plot can be easily thwarted — but if the U.S. public is completely indifferent or even hostile to the idea of protecting American interests from a rival, the plot might just succeed.
I know that American progressives tend to be doves, and maybe the Russian Institute for American and Canadian Studies has figured this out. At the moment, the American conservatives have either quit the field or gone over to the other side.
There’s no need to start a war, but maybe American progressives need to attend to national defense as well as ensuring justice and eliminating poverty.
One thing is for sure, the more a totalitarian government controls Europe, the less prosperous and safe the U.S. is. It’s kind of a no-brainer. Our grandparents and great-grandparents established NATO nearly 70 years ago with this simple premise in mind.
The task at hand is fairly simple: Carry on.
For aNewDomain Politics, I’m Tom Ewing.
Cover image screen shot from Russian propaganda video; Trump-Putin photo: via CSmonitor.com, All Rights Reserved; Pearl Harbor photograph: Retouched by Mmxx – File:The USS Arizona (BB-39) burning after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor – NARA – 195617.tif This media is available in the holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration, cataloged under the ARC Identifier (National Archives Identifier) 195617. The original can be viewed here: The USS Arizona (BB-39) burning after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor – NARA – 195617.tif. Modifications made by Mmxx., Public Domain, Link.