What’s Putin After? Is It a New Cold War?
What does Putin want? What’s his end game? What’s next?
Putin’s interference in elections in the U.S. and western Europe is his way of striking back at the U.S. for pushing NATO up against Russia’s borders, building a power base in Russia’s backyard and stationing anti-missile defenses in eastern Europe, says Hedrick Smith, former New York Times Moscow Bureau Chief and author of the global best-seller, “The Russians.”
“The Russian hacking and the Russian intervention in the 2016 campaign is just the peak of it,” Smith told WTTW, PBS in Chicago. “It’s kind of Putin’s revenge for the fact that we pushed the Russian bear back in the cave by moving the frontiers of NATO into the Baltic states—Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia. And (Putin) sees us as being behind the overthrow of the pro-Russian president in the Ukraine. So he’s hitting back.” (See video)
The New Czar – Projecting Russian Power
Smith calls Putin the new Russian Czar projecting Russian military power into eastern Europe and challenging the West with diplomatic brinksmanship and cyber/social media warfare taking advantage of openness in Western democracies.
“He’s put Russia back on the global stage,” says Smith. “He’s bolstered his own support at home because the Russians, as a people, have wounded pride. They feel as though they have been shoved aside by the major powers.”
In the 1970s, ’80s and into the ’90s, which was era of detente between President Nixon and former Communist Party Leader Leonid Brezhnev. President Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, or President Bill and Boris Yeltsin, Russia got used to being treated as a super=power equal of the United States. But in the Putin era, Russia has been downgraded, shoved aside by Washington, replaced by China, unable to compete economically or in power terms. that loss of status has hurt and angered the Russians and left Putin hunting opportunities for revenge.
“There’s no question that our policies during the Clinton years — pushing NATO eastward— and during the Bush years, carrying that policy forward, has really upset the Russians and made them feel on the defensive,” Smith observes.
Putin – Hunting for Revenge
Largely hemmed in by NATO’s military strength, Putin has turned to cyber warfare, using his intelligence services and computer hackers rather than military force to disrupt the West – and we can expect more of that in the 2018 elections and beyond, Smith says. Putin is playing a long-term game of restoring Russian power and global influence by bolstering allies in places like Syria and trying to intimidate the West.
Smith dismisses Putin’s denial of interference in the 2016 elections in answer to President Trump’s questions. “I don’t know what Trump expected,” Smith said. “You don’t go ask a former KGB colonel ‘Did you interfere in our elections?’ and expect to get a straight answer.”
“It is just stunning that Trump will attack members of his own political party. He’ll rip up not only Democrats but Republican senators like Bob Corker and John McCain, who speak out against him, but even Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, who worked to get Trump’s bills passed. Then he turns around and won’t say anything critical about Putin. That’s weird.”
In fact, Smith suggests, Trump’s peculiar reluctance to criticize the new czar in the Kremlin, coupled with his reluctance for a long time to affirm his clear support of NATO, adds to people’s suspicions that either the Russians have something on Trump and he’s afraid of Putin or that Trump is in cahoots with Putin in some strange way. That may not be true, but Trump has put himself in a position where he has to take some actions to prove it.