Putin’s plan to expand Russia’s influence by destabilizing the West

Putin's quest to destabilize Europe and the U.S. is exceeding above and beyond his wildest dreams -- and our peril.

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Vladimir Putin / Photo: firdaus omar, used under Flickr Creative Commons license
Vladimir Putin / Photo: firdaus omar, used under Flickr Creative Commons license
WASHINGTON, December 14, 2016 – The CIA has concluded that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win the presidency. The FBI agrees with regard to Russian intervention, but questions Moscow’s motives.
What we do know is that Congressional hearings into this matter will explore this question further.
Why President Obama, who apparently knew of this Soviet intervention during the campaign, did nothing to challenge it remains unclear.
Why President-elect Trump is reluctant to recognize what U.S. Intelligence agencies report as having happened is also less than clear.
What we do know, beyond question, is that Vladimir Putin, who succeeded in invading Ukraine and annexing Crimea is in the process of attempting to destabilize both Europe and the U.S. so that Russia can expand its influence, particularly in independent states that were once part of the Soviet Union, not only Ukraine but also Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, among others.
Russia’s attack upon our own election should come as no surprise. In Spring 2007, Moscow was angered by the removal of a Soviet monument in central Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. Soon afterwards, Estonian government, banking and media websites came under sustained attack.
A pro-Moscow youth activist claimed responsibility for what he described as a private act of “civil disobedience” carried out in protest at the alleged violation of the rights of Estonia’s ethnic Russians. U.S. diplomatic cables leaked by Wikileaks described Estonia as an “unprecedented victim of the world’s first cyberattacks against a nation-state.”
The following year, several Georgian government websites were hijacked in the run-up to and during the Russian-Georgia war of August 2008. The Georgia Foreign Ministry accused Russia of waging “a campaign of cyber warfare.”
Ukraine, now the victim of a Soviet military invasion in which the world has acquiesced, has long been the target of such attacks. The biggest cyberattack on Ukraine took place on December 23, 2015, when hackers took control of the power grid in the Western Ivano-Frankivsk region, leaving thousands of people in the dark and without power.
According to “Wired” magazine, it was the first-ever confirmed cyber-attack aimed at taking down a power-grid. It also said that the hack involved a telephone denial-of-service attack that appeared to come from Moscow. Ukraine pointed the finger at Moscow. SentinelOne, a U.S.-based cybersecurity firm, said the attack was part of a “nation-sponsored campaign.”
More recently, Western organizations too have experienced similar attacks. This is happening at a time when Russia’s relationship with the West is at its lowest since the end of the Cold War over the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria. Last May, Germany’s domestic intelligence agency (BFU) reported what it believed was an attempt to sabotage Germany’s political Internet infrastructure. The head of the BFU said the agency had “indications it (the attack) is being steered by the Russian state.”

Politics indeed makes strange bedfellows. Vladimir Putin’s goal is to make Europe safe for Russian aggression and expansion. In order to do this, he seeks to undermine both the European Union and NATO. He has found allies not within liberal and left-wing groups which often gravitated toward Moscow in the past, but in the growing right-wing parties and groups which have embraced a populist and nationalist agenda.

Moscow has provided financial and logistical support for far-right forces in the West, reports Peter Kreko, an analyst at Political Capital, a research group in Budapest. Jobbik, an extreme right-wing party in Hungary, has been accused of receiving money from Moscow. The far-right National Front Party in France, led by Marine Le Pen, has received loans worth more than $11 million from Russian banks.
The French conservative candidate for president, Francois Fillon, who will oppose Le Pen in the forthcoming election, compared Moscow’s annexation of Crimea to Kosovo’s Declaration of Independence from Serbia., Both Fillon and Le Pen oppose sanctions against Russia.,
In the U.S., the white nationalist “alt-right” movement has also embraced Vladimir Putin’s Russia. One of its leaders, Richard Spencer, has called Russia “the sole white power in the world.” Matthew Heimbach, another “alt-right” leader, recently told “Business Insider” that, “Russia is the leader of the Free World.”
We have also seen Donald Trump’s warm words about Vladimir Putin during the campaign. Gen. Michael Flynn, who has been named national security adviser in the new administration, says, “We beat Hitler because of our relationship with Russia and we should renew that partnership in the new world war against radical Islam.”
Mr. Trump’s  new political strategist, Steve Bannon, talks of “the long history of Judeo-Christian struggle against Islam” and says, “We really have to look at what he’s (Putin) talking about as far as traditionalism goes, particularly the sense of where it supports the underpinnings of nationalism.”
Now, we have the selection of Rex Tillerson, the chief executive of ExxonMobil, as Secretary of State. For his oil deals with Moscow, Tillerson was awarded Russia’s Order of Friendship by Vladimir Putin. The Wall Street Journal reports that, “Friends and associates said few U.S. citizens are closer to Mr. Putin than Mr. Tillerson.”
Rex Tillerson has been a vocal opponent of the sanctions against Russia imposed after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
Writing in The Atlantic, Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, speaks of a “romance between far-right, anti-immigrant European parties and Putin. We stand now at the most dangerous moment for liberal democracy since the end of World War ll.”
Donald Trump has praised Putin as “a strong leader.” His candidate for Secretary of State seems to agree. His choice for defense secretary, Gen. James N. Mattis, on the other hand, said in May 2015 that among world threats “in the near term, I think the most dangerous might be Russia…As you look at the Russian situation, I think it is much more severe and much more serious than we have acknowledged.”
How the new administration will deal with an increasingly aggressive Russia remains to be seen. What seems to be the case at the present time, however, is the Vladimir Putin is successfully interfering in the political life of the  West, including our own country, and has made major strides in undermining NATO and the EU. He may be the darling of the nationalist right-wing, but the implications for the rest of us are not promising. It would be an irony of history if Moscow won the Cold War after all—assisted by a xenophobic nationalism which has led the world to disaster before.
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Allan C. Brownfeld
Received B.A. from the College of William and Mary, J.D. from the Marshall-Wythe School of Law of the College of William and Mary, and M.A. from the University of Maryland. Served as a member of the faculties of St. Stephen's Episcopal School, Alexandria, Virginia and the University College of the University of Maryland. The recipient of a Wall Street Journal Foundation Award, he has written for such newspapers as The Houston Press, The Washington Evening Star, The Richmond Times Dispatch, and The Cincinnati Enquirer. His column appeared for many years in Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. His articles have appeared in The Yale Review, The Texas Quarterly, Orbis, Modern Age, The Michigan Quarterly, The Commonweal and The Christian Century. His essays have been reprinted in a number of text books for university courses in Government and Politics. For many years, his column appeared several times a week in papers such as The Washington Times, The Phoenix Gazette and the Orange County Register. He served as a member of the staff of the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, as Assistant to the research director of the House Republican Conference and as a consultant to members of the U.S. Congress and to the Vice President. He is the author of five books and currently serves as Contributing Editor of The St. Croix Review, Associate Editor of The Lincoln Review and editor of Issues.