My brother cracked this joke in early 2017: “Say what you want about Trump, but at least the Democrats have finally noticed that Russia is a problem.” Tongue in cheek, but to the point: The U.S. and European democracies have ignored Vladimir Putin’s thuggish regime for too long.
Rigging his country’s elections? Check. Trying rig our elections? Check. Assassinating critics and journalists? Check. Seizing the territory of neighboring sovereign nations? All day long. How long will the free world continue to appease a despot consolidating his power (who also has strategic nuclear weapons)?
It would be easy to say the current situation in Russia is all due to the current administration. That is not true, however. Previous presidents turned a blind eye to Putin’s march toward autocracy, most notably Russia’s expansion of its own borders. In 2008, Russia started a war with independent state of Georgia, reclaiming two disputed territories for itself.
Days after Russia hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics (notable for lack of flush toilets in the Olympic Village), fully armed “little green men” rolled into the Crimea, along a strategic coastal area on the Black Sea. Here’s the global conversation that followed:
Putin: “Hey, I don’t know who those guys are either.”
Rest of the world: “Oh. Okay.”
Putin: “You know what? They were Russian troops. Crimea is now part of Russia.”
Rest of the world: “Dude, that is so lame. Here are some sanctions.”
Just over a month later, in April 2014, Russian-backed insurgents began attacking military and civilian targets in Eastern Ukraine. That hot war is still ongoing, and in 2020 re-intensified amidst the disruption of the Covid-19 pandemic. More than 13,000 people have been killed in that conflict.
In 2015, Russia entered the Syrian civil war on the side of fellow authoritarian leader, President Bashir Al-Assad. Russian troops, some not in uniform, attacked rebel targets and their U.S. and NATO allies. Russia continues to interfere in Syria, where the conflict has created one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises with the displacement of over 12 million people.
As early as 2012, Russian agents were working to influence American elections. Both parties were targeted. Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election is not disputed.
The Federal Communication Commission has allowed RT America, a television network operated by the Russian state in Washington, DC, to broadcast propaganda since 2010.
And this week, we learned that Russia has been working with the Taliban to target American troops in Afghanistan. To add insult to injury, it’s become a partisan issue as only Democrats in Congress have bothered to attend intelligence briefings in general this spring (Former GOP Texas Congressman John Ratcliffe attended one hearing in May before his confirmation hearing for appointment as the Director of National Intelligence), and the President has made his disdain for our intelligence community well known.
I know we all want to know who knew what and when over the Russian bounty payments to the Taliban, but just it’s one more notch on the Kremlin’s global disruption bedpost. With Putin being re-elected to two more terms through 2030 this week, I believe it is not a matter of whether we have a day of reckoning with Russia, but when. I fervently hope American elected leadership can unite on this growing threat and decide to make some preparations.
Merritt Hamilton Allen is a PR executive and a former Navy officer. She lives amicably with her Democratic husband and Republican mother north of I-40 where they run two head of dog, and two of cat.