The recent indictment of 13 Russians for meddling in the 2016 US election has prompted a hysterical reaction from some pundits. One commentator called the cyber plot “the second-worst foreign attack on America in the past decade”, after 9/11; another warned that Russia and America were now engaged in a “virtual war”, lamenting that the battle was being fought on the US side “without a commander in chief”; another called for a “Cold War containment” policy to deal with Moscow.
Is this really a proportionate response to what appears to have amounted to little more than a few Russian trolls making mischief on Facebook? “The problem is not that American democracy was hacked”, but that it is in such a fragile state that a “few crude memes” can generate such discord. Similar Russian attempts to meddle in elections in France and Germany were shrugged off. The crisis in the US long predates Russian interference, and “stems from a polarised polity where one party actively encourages its followers to distrust news from non-partisan outlets”. Low voter turnout, voter suppression and rampant jerrymandering have further undermined public confidence in the system. Launching a new Cold War against Russia is not going to solve any of these problems. (Jeet Heer,The New Republic)
Putin wants to “make Russia great again”, which means recovering the Tsarist territories “lost” when communism collapsed. These territories could be interpreted to include Ukraine (of course), the Baltic countries, Poland the Czech Republic, maybe Finland and the countries of the Caucasus. Crimea was a success, so why not press on with the resurrection of the 19th Century empire? In order to realise this (hopefully hopeless) ambition NATO and the EU have to be destabilised and the United States at the very least neutralised. If you buy into this strategy and factor in the deep resentment of US and EU bullying and disrespect (as the Russians see it) over decades, then you have an answer to what latterday Tsar Putin is up to, apparently with huge public support. I don’t like any of it in the least, but understand the resentment. Arguably, Western policies have upset the ataraxia of the Russian people for years.