America’s President Donald Trump has done Russia’s President Vladimir Putin several favors. The biggest of these is to distract the American people from Putin’s aggressions and transgressions. Americans have spent the last four years so obsessed with Trump that Putin has been left alone, largely free to do what he pleased when he pleased. Every now and then the Europeans scream and yell, but without American muscle to back them up they remain powerless to stop the Russian bear from behaving badly.
- The just revealed SolarWinds supply chain attack was by all accounts among the most significant breaches of U.S. government agencies ever. While the precise scope and nature of the hack remains unclear, what is clear is that departments such as Treasury, State, and Commerce were among those compromised, along with the Pentagon. What seems similarly clear – though not yet officially confirmed – is that the attackers were Russian. The group thought to be responsible is known as “Cozy Bear.” It is associated with Russian intelligence, and known to have carried out the 2016 attack against the Democratic National Committee.
- The evidence that Russian agents were responsible for executing the murderous attack against Aleksei Navalny, by far Russia’s best-known dissident and for years a serious thorn in Putin’s side, continues to accumulate. This week the New York Times reported a research group specializing in open-source investigations had found that “officers from a secret spy unit with expertise in poisonous substances” had trailed Navalny for years and “were nearby at the time he was exposed to a highly toxic nerve agent that almost killed him last summer.” No great surprise here – Russian agents have long been known for poisoning Putin’s political opponents. (Navalny nearly died but did not. He continues however still to recover in Germany.) Still, attention must be paid.
- At home Putin is tightening the screws on those who show signs of refusing to fall into line. Given his level of popularity is down from what it was, and given intermittent signs of growing domestic restiveness, and given the resistance movements in other countries, Putin is clearly getting edgy – nervous lest the opposition get out of hand. To preclude this possibility his government is proposing a slew of new laws, all targeted at those who might have the temerity to take him on ahead of next year’s parliamentary elections. As one observer put it, a woman associated with Human Rights Watch, the proposed new laws would “enable the government to designate individuals as foreign agents, …basically barring them from participating in elections.” She continued, “The government clearly aims to stifle civil society.”
Any one of these three recent developments should be anathema to Americans – the chief executive above all. But as is well known by now – though the reasons conspicuously are not – this American president has given that Russian president a pass.
My hope is those days are over. Even if the next administration does nothing, it damn straight can say something.
*”Putin Patrol” pieces have been featured regularly on this post for years.