Russian Stealth and American Acquiesence
America may have a fleet of stealth aircraft, but Russia’s stealth actions to dominate America and the West have been more effective, more lethal and less expensive. Through both covert and transparent activities, Russia has infiltrated and influenced United States’ politics and invested in various American strategic industries in spite of sanctions by the U.S. on top Russian political and economic figures. All of these operatives are connected in one way or another to Vladimir Putin or the FSB, who may or may not be directing their moves.
They have impacted American and Western politics through social networks innovated by American companies for commercial purposes. The American businesses are interested in monetizing these networks to generate cash and climb the ladder to capitalist success, producing valuable companies listed on the world’s top stock exchanges. But the leadership of these technological behemoths has not taken the time or made the effort to protect its followers from nefarious activities by outside actors, who use the networks to steal identities of the users, spread fake or malicious news under the direction of Russian or other governments who are trying to undermine Western liberal democracy, and attempting to influence the outcome of elections in the US and other Western states. They also use bots to simulate citizens of democratic nations to promulgate false ideas and news, spread through social media on the open internet.
Until Trump’s election with alleged Russian assistance, Congress had been generally uninterested in Russian actions, though America’s intelligence agencies had been warning about their hacking apparatus and bots directed against America and Western democracies. Now, with Democratic prodding and the Mueller investigation, some concerns have been raised. However, the Republicans, previously strongly hostile to the Russians, have not taken up the gauntlet to vigorously probe Russian infiltration of the nation’s political, economic, and intelligence systems. Though they may be aware of the potential danger, they are more obsessed with passage of tax cuts for corporations and affluent citizens than a serious investigation of Russian activities. Focusing on the Russians and their attempts at influencing American society, could divert them temporarily from their primary legislative goals.
Besides, both Senate and House committees are looking into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, though one must say they have accomplished little in the past year. The Russians know that technologically and militarily America is far ahead of them, spending far greater funds on warships, planes, conventional armaments, and advanced technology. They do not want to engage in a war with the US, but would like to reduce some of our strategic superiority while gaining new allies and grabbing additional territory. So they are doing this with what they call hybrid warfare, at a low cost and low risk, restoring a sense of pride among the Russian population because they are again a world power that has to be reckoned with.
Hybrid warfare is a combination of overt propaganda, cyberwar, and the use of unspecified armed forces or ‘volunteers’ to aid Russian friendly populations to take over territory. The fact that these forces are unmarked and carry no identification that shows they belong to Russia, makes deniability possible if they are killed, captured, or lose battles. If they are successful, as in Crimea, the territory can be transferred to Russian administration or Russian-friendly authorities as in Abkhazia in Georgia and Donbass and Luhansk in Eastern Ukraine.
However, regaining territory is not the major thrust of hybrid warfare. They would like to tarnish Western liberal democracy so it will no longer be an attractive alternative model to Russian autocracy, dissuading the Russian people from thinking about change. Putin and the FSB have been doing this successfully and on the cheap. These actions will also find adherents in other autocracies like Hungary, Poland, Turkey, Venezuela, and so forth, some of whom will ally themselves with Putin. Where the Russians hackers and other agents will go with this and how much pushback they will receive from American and other Western intelligence agencies remains to be seen. President Trump has downplayed the success of the Russian efforts and has been publically critical of his own intelligence operatives, which is unusual for an American president to say the least. But perhaps he will be pressured by Republicans in the House, Senate, his cabinet, and the military to have America play a more active role in resisting Russian efforts and have the nation play offense as well as defense.
America has to let the Russians know they do not have an open field in which to promulgate propaganda and false news to the American and Western public, to sew confusion, division, and chaos to try and break up old alliances and make allies suspicious of each others’ motives. The Russians cannot interfere in American politics or elections without paying a heavy price in sanctions, whether Trump agrees or not. This is not the Cold War but Russians remain paranoid about the aims of Western democracies with Russia on the outside, its economy struggling.
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