Tags: vladimir putin | despot | trump

Vladimir Putin: The Making of a Despot

Vladimir Putin: The Making of a Despot
Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a televised address to the nation in Moscow on March 23, 2018, following the announcement of the presidential election official results. (Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/AFP/Getty Images)

By Wednesday, 28 March 2018 01:00 PM Current | Bio | Archive

On March 18, Vladimir Putin secured his fourth term as Russian president.

Few question that the election was corrupt, or as international election monitors described it, “overly controlled” and lacking “genuine competition.”

Indeed, Putin emerges from the election with a renewed ability to disrupt elections and sow division across the globe.

He is fully engaged in a plan to destabilize the West through militaristic, social, and cultural means. Arguably more alarming than Putin’s success has been the the tacit approval from the White House. Though the extent of President Trump’s relationship with Putin remains a mystery, many view Trump as an enabler to Putin’s agenda.

Prior to a call with the Russian president shortly after his reelection, Trump was instructed by his national security advisers not to congratulate Putin on his win.

However, the president ignored these recommendations and congratulated Putin, as reported by The Washington Post shortly thereafter.

Trump’s deferential behavior toward Putin set off alarms across party lines and throughout the West.

"An American president does not lead the free world by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections," said GOP senator John McCain, who has long been critical of Trump’s lax stance toward Russia.

Moreover, Trump told reporters that he discussed the potential of arranging a meeting with the Russian president in the near future.

“I suspect that we’ll probably be meeting in the not too distant future to discuss the arms race, which is getting out of control, but we will never allow anybody to have anything even close to what we have,” Trump said. “Also to discuss Ukraine, Syria and North Korea and various other things.”

Under most administrations, such a summit would be unheard of, as it implies that the United States is open to a partnership with a ruthless, oppressive, corrupt regime whose ultimate goal is to destabilize the West.

If anything, Putin’s reelection is further reinforcement for the conclusion that he is intent on disrupting democratic elections around the world, and focused on driving a wedge between different NATO and EU factions. Russia has recently developed new tactics to pursue these ends, including, most prominently, cyberwarfare and social-media propaganda to spread disinformation. In just the past two years, Putin has meddled in elections in the United States, Britain, Germany, and France to depress turnout and spread conspiracies about voter fraud.

I have long argued that Putin has a master plan to destroy Europe, divide NATO, reclaim Russian influence in the world, and most of all to marginalize the United States and the West in order to achieve regional hegemony and global power.

Former CIA deputy director Mike Morell recently echoed this point as well

“There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that after the invasion of Georgia, the invasion of Ukraine, the intervention in Syria, the meddling in our election, the attack last week by Russian mercenaries on U.S. forces in Syria, that we are again in a Cold War,” said Morrell.

Indeed, Putin is fully engaged in at least a “Gray War” of covert manipulation against the West.

This month, Putin unveiled Russia’s new “invincible” nuclear weapons system, which, in an animated video, aimed its target squarely at the United States. This presentation constituted a clear effort to intimidate would-be enemies and demonstrate the might of the Russian military.

The nerve-gas poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in London garnered international condemnation, and United Kingdom Prime Minister Theresa May placed the blame squarely on the Russian government. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson individually accused Putin of orchestrating the attack as well.

Putin has the means and the motivation to continue committing heinous violations of international law in the name of destabilizing liberal democracies and their values.

Thus, and pace Trump, this is not the time for the U.S. to take a seat at the negotiating table. It is time for the U.S. to respond with resistance and deliberate action against Putin and everything that he stands for.

To do so, the United States must remain unified with its allies. It also must reassume its role as the leader in promoting unity and cooperation among all Western nations — especially as Putin seeks to exacerbate tensions among NATO and EU factions.

The unity of these alliances is threatened on three main fronts.

The Greece-Germany relationship is arguably the tensest one in Europe right now, and Putin has expertly exploited it. Relations between the EU’s weakest economy and its strongest reached a low point as Greece, devastated by debt and refugee crises, relied on Germany and the EU for debt relief. The most recent indication that the two nations are at odds in terms of Russian relations is this: Greece has signed an arms deal with Russia just as Germany pushes for increased Russian-NATO dialogue.

Second, the relationship between the U.S. and Turkey has reached a “crisis point,” in former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s words, over conflicting aims in Syria and Turkey’s warming relations with Moscow. The U.S. wants NATO member Turkey to support efforts in Syria to fend off Russian and Iranian interference, but Russia has deepened its involvement in Syria and recently sold anti-defense missiles to the Turks.

Lastly, and arguably most important, the relationship between the United Kingdom and the most powerful EU nations, notably France and Germany, is undeniably strained post-Brexit. Britain’s access to the European Market hangs in the balance. The tension is amplified by Russian efforts to spread disinformation throughout Europe.

It’s worth noting that, though the U.S. and its Western allies generally find Putin and his government reprehensible, he remains tremendously popular in Russia. Before being forced to cease publication, Russia’s main independent pollster, Levada, found Putin’s approval rating to be 81 percent in December 2017.

Some speculate that these figures are distorted or that dissident citizens are silenced. It seems to me, though that Russian citizens on the whole do feel a renewed sense of pride as Putin’s military aggressions invoke memories of a Russian empire.

Indeed, Putin tactically intertwines domestic and foreign affairs, using projections of power to garner support at home. For example, many have suggested that the Skirbals’ poisoning on the eve of Russia’s fixed election was designed to boost support while simultaneously warning Putin’s own intelligence and military apparatus that no location is beyond his reach.

President Trump has only recently acknowledged what every intelligence agency in the U.S. has known for months — that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. elections. While Trump unapologetically called out North Korean dictator Kim Jung Un following his nuclear threats, he has remained conspicuously silent on all things Putin.

Putin will not stop in his efforts to undermine liberal democracies, and especially their political processes, until a responsive action is taken.

Recently, U.S. intelligence has indicated that Putin is also targeting this year’s U.S. midterm elections. Russian trolls may have recently attempted to register for the Texas Democratic convention.

"Frankly, the United States is under attack," Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats reported to the Senate Intelligence Committee, adding that Russia seeks to “degrade our democratic values and weaken our alliances."

The United States must prepare for these attacks. This month, the U.S. offered its first real response to Moscow’s election-meddling by imposing new sanctions for its cyber intrusions —a promising first step, but one that must be followed with stringent preventive measures.

The U.S. would be wise to follow in the footsteps of European counterparts, who have taken the lead in countering Putin. France’s Emmanuel Macron thwarted Russian hackers by planting fake emails among real ones, which discredited later leaks that could be identified as false. Nordic countries now teach media literacy in schools and to political parties as well as state agencies, and work with journalists to purge fake stories and correct misinformation.

State agencies are at the forefront of this battle and must be properly prepared with a plan to audit their elections and communicate with journalists. Moreover, cybersecurity information-sharing must be bolstered, not only between states and the federal government but also among states.

The United States is in the midst of a crisis of leadership and only a rebirth of American global leadership can counter the corrosive impact of Vladimir Putin, who threatens the peace and security of the world .

The question remains: at what point will President Trump and the West decide that it is time to counter Russia’s new czar with a serious, sustained effort? Hanging in the balance is not only the United States’ role as the world’s superpower, but more broadly, the relevance and legitimacy of democratic elections and institutions — in short, of the Western project itself.

That’s the challenge Putin has thrown down. We must, as I recommended in my most recent book, "Putin on the March," reengage with a clear policy, strategy, and plan to swiftly counteract his behavior.

Doug Schoen is a Democratic pollster, strategist, and best-selling author. His latest book is "Putin on the March: The Russian President's Unchecked Global Advance." To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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On March 18, Vladimir Putin secured his fourth term as Russian president.
vladimir putin, despot, trump
Wednesday, 28 March 2018 01:00 PM
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