Garry Kasparov, the Russian human rights activist and former chess champion, has a piece in today’s Washington Post titled The U.S. doesn’t have a problem with Russia. It has a problem with Vladimir Putin.
When the entire U.S. intelligence community united to accuse Russia of tampering in the 2016 presidential election, it seemed redundant to later add that Vladimir Putin was directly involved. Nothing significant happens in Russia, and no action is taken by Russia, without the knowledge of the man who has held total power there for 17 years, first as president and later as unchallenged dictator. Having steadily eliminated every form of real political and social opposition in Russia, Putin turned his attacks on the foreign powers that could — should they decide to act — weaken his grip.
The United States, in other words, doesn’t have a problem with Russia — it has a problem with Putin.
And instead of deterrence, President Obama continues the policy of belated responses that has enabled Putin’s steady escalation of hostile acts. The sanctions against Russian intelligence assets that the White House announced last Thursday, while welcome, left me searching for a Russian equivalent for the proverb “closing the barn door after the horse is gone.”
Kasparov also has a warning for those who place partisanship over country: you are playing right into Vladimir Putin’s hands:
The Russian meddling in the 2016 election documented by the Obama administration last week relied on partisan enmity to disregard its origins and the eagerness of American news outlets to take their cues from social media by turning stolen emails into daily headlines about their trivial content. Editors and algorithms designed to maximize social sharing were woefully unprepared for a coordinated and well-funded propaganda assault.
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Hacking is an ideal new front in this type of shadow war. It’s difficult to trace and, like terrorist attacks, cyberwar has a very high impact-to-cost ratio. Once data is stolen, it barely takes any work at all, since the media is delighted to distribute it far and wide. Stolen information has the irresistible allure of forbidden fruit, no matter how banal the actual content may be. Social media has no vetting at all and has become fertile soil for Kremlin trolls and fake news organizations. These digital tools will only grow in power and in influence. After the tremendous success of the Democratic National Committee hack, there will only be more such attacks unless very strong deterrence is put in place to discourage them.
. . . .
Putin’s classic KGB strategy of divide and conquer is perfectly suited for this era of hyper-partisanship. Americans have forgotten Abraham Lincoln’s admonition that a house divided against itself cannot stand. A divided America cannot defend the values of the free world.
Even if, as seems likely, Putin probably did not swing the election, there is something very disquieting about the spectacle of many pro-Trump Republicans rushing to minimize Putin’s actions. Also laughable is the blatantly partisan manner in which Democrats have suddenly discovered a menace in Russian hacking that they couldn’t find in Putin’s murders of journalists, opposition figures, and other innocents over the last 17 years.
If Americans can’t recognize who their real enemies are, they are bound to be crushed by them.
P.S. Over the winter break I purchased and read Kasparov’s latest book: Winter Is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped. I plan to review it in the next day or two. I recommend it to anyone who wishes to learn more about the true enemy.