President Obama has been shamefully derelict in making Putin pay a price for his aggression. It’s time to give Vladimir a taste of his own medicine.
Vladimir Putin’s tenure as Russia’s dictator has been dedicated to twin interlocking goals: to enhance his own power and wealth and that of the country he controls. The more powerful Russia becomes, after all, the more powerful its president becomes, too. In pursuit of more influence, Putin has tried to rebuild the Russian armed forces from a force of low-quality conscripts equipped with weapons that don’t work to a high-quality professional force with cutting-edge weapons. That transformation, only partially complete, has been shown off in Syria, which Putin has used as a showcase for systems including sleek Kalibr cruise missiles and the smoke-belching aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov. But as befits an old KGB man, Putin’s heart appears to lie more with “deniable” covert operations rather than with overt muscle-flexing.
Putin has become notorious for using “little green men” — Russian intelligence operatives and Spetsnaz (special forces) in civilian clothing — to infiltrate Ukrainian territory and start an uprising among the Russian-speaking population. And it worked: Russia annexed Crimea and has gained de facto control over much of eastern Ukraine. This tactic of undertaking barely disguised aggression has become known as “hybrid warfare,” and it has consistently left the West wrong-footed because Putin is careful to avoid crossing the normal red lines.
The West has been even more flummoxed by Putin’s campaign of political warfare designed to subvert anti-Russian regimes and replace them with more pliable leaders. The most high-profile manifestation of this effort was the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and other Democratic targets in an attempt, as the CIA has now concluded, to swing the U.S. presidential election toward Donald Trump, the most pro-Russian politician in America since the heyday of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s agriculture secretary, Henry Wallace. Russian internet trolls were also busy putting out anti-Clinton, pro-Trump stories, many of them demonstrably false.
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