The claim that “the Cold War is over” and that the West needs a “new paradigm” for relations with Russia has become an antiphon in some conservative political circles—not least conservative Christian circles. The call for serious and creative thinking about Russia is welcome and sensible. The claim that the Cold War is over is not, because Vladimir Putin never got that memo. Ignoring that reality means danger in devising any new paradigm.
Putin’s Russia is an authoritarian kleptocracy with a post-modern difference, for the veteran KGB man is far more clever and deft than the reptilian characters who preceded him (think Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov, and Konstantin Chernenko). Yes, he wants to reverse history’s verdict in 1989 (when the Soviet external empire liberated itself) and 1991 (when the USSR disintegrated). But he knows he can’t compete with the West as the old Bolsheviks tried to do when they promoted communism as a humane alternative to liberal democracy. And he knows that, in the digital age, information—including fake “information”—is power.
So while the Putin regime is not averse to brutality when it can get away with it (e.g., murdering domestic political opponents like Alexander Litvinenko, Anna Politkovskaya, and Boris Nemtsov), its international tactics in this new, cooler Cold War are more discreet. Those tactics include polluting the global information space with disinformation through overt instruments like the television network Russia Today, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Kremlin propagandists. But the even more insidious (and far larger) Russian attack on the global information eco-system comes through various cyber-warfare tools. Thus the Putin regime deploys an army of internet trolls who, supplemented by bots, generate a vast amount of traffic on Facebook and Twitter, spreading lies and propaganda across the globe.
Read more at First Things.