The (Former) Soviet Empire Strikes Back

    Richard Sokolsky, Paul Stronski

    Security, Europe

    Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a flower-laying ceremony at the Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery to mark the 75th anniversary of the breakthrough the Nazi Siege of Leningrad in the World War II, in St. Petersburg

    Russia’s meddling in the U.S. political system is part of a broader global campaign to undermine what the Kremlin sees as a Western-dominated international order.

    It took quite a while but the Trump administration, in the recently released National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy, is finally talking about Russia as a strategic competitor. But before the national-security bureaucracy gathers a head of steam to wage Cold War 2.0, Washington should take a deep collective breath and approach this challenge with patience, realism, prudence and restraint to avoid overreaching as it seeks to protect core American interests.

    Since 2012, Russia has been conducting a sophisticated, well-resourced and generally successful campaign to reassert its global influence at the expense of the West. Still, it is by no means obvious, as the new National Defense Strategy claims, that Russia wants to shape a world consistent with its authoritarian model and gain a veto over the economic, diplomatic and security decisions of other nations. It is equally unclear whether the administration has the resolve or capacity to mount an effective and sustainable response to global Russia, given Trump’s preternatural instinct to give Putin a pass on aggressive Russian behavior and a disorganized interagency decisionmaking process.

    But assuming the White House can get its national-security agencies on the same page, how should the United States deal with the challenge posed by Russia’s global activism? The first step is understanding the sources of Russian conduct and the challenge it presents. The second is to determine when, whether and how to respond to Russia’s global activities.

    The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming

    Russia’s meddling in the U.S. political system is part of a broader global campaign to undermine what the Kremlin sees as a Western-dominated international order and to chip away at the liberal norms and institutions that underwrite it. Like the character in Woody Allen’s 1983 film Zelig, Putin and his minions have been showing up in virtually every corner of the globe to contest American influence and its leadership of this order.

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