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Buried deep in this comment thread was this exchange: One of our members, BalticSnowTiger—who is, I suspect, in the Baltics, but this is the Internet, so who knows–proposed:
Unless people in the West and far apart finally invest a moment to understand Russian authoritarian thinking, behaviour, strategy and the effect deterrence has all of this is moot.
One of our members, AIG–who is, I suspect, in America, but this is the Internet, so who knows–replied:
People do understand this.
AIG, I don’t want to simplify or make a straw man out of your argument. I suggest our readers carefully study that thread, and judge both comments in context. But my response is this: Let’s try to make empirical, testable statements. I fear that the majority of the adult population–in most Western countries—has nothing like a sufficient understanding of Russian authoritarian thinking, behavior, and strategy.
Specifically, I don’t think you’d find, if you conducted a well-controlled poll, that most people in the West would instantly appreciate the following references, or have any clue what they mean:
- The 1999 apartment bombings;
- The Second Chechen War;
- The murder of Litvinenko;
- South Ossetia;
- “One-party system, characterized by censorship, with a puppet parliament, no independent judiciary, and notable for its hypertrophied special services;”
- “Siloviki structures in governance, clericalism and statism in ideology;”
- “The rehabilitation of the Soviet past;”
- “A state-sponsored global PR effort, in which RT–and “Sputnik news” are Pravda. Rebranded, but otherwise the same;”
- “Intensified official lobbying activities in the US through PR companies like Hannaford Enterprises;”
- “A Kremlin pumping more money than you can imagine into various forms of public diplomacy: new media ventures to target international audiences; conferences to seduce Western opinion-makers; and NGOs in Western capitals dedicated to analyzing every real failing of Western democracy;”
- “Former KGB officers running Russia. The FSB is just the KGB. No one really lost his job.” (Test that one in a poll, see how many know that. Bet you not a lot);
- “The FSB monitors the Russian population electronically, controls the political process, creates front enterprises, and runs its own prisons;”
- FSB: How many in the West even know what that is? A majority, you think? Doubt it;
- “Putin’s Russia is dominated by former and active-duty intelligence offiicers.” Think the majority grasp that?
- “Russia: an assassination-happy nightmare where detention, interrogation, and torture–right from the KGB handbook, no translation necessary–are used to silence journalists and businessmen who annoy Putin.” Let’s poll that statement. Think everyone knows that?
- “Chekists.” How many Americans know that word? Or understand how it applies, in 2015?
- “The export-appeal of Putinism as an ideology.” Familiar phrase?
- “Former Soviet republics in Azerbaijan, Belarus and central Asia follow Moscow’s lead, as do Venezuela and many African and Asian countries.” Think people grasp that?
- “The new geopolitical trend: undemocratic, oligarchic and corrupt national elites put up a nice facade of democracy with parliamentary trappings and a pretence of pluralism–a trick they learned from Putin.” Think people get that?
- “Eastern Europe, where Kremlin-friendly politicians get all the campaign funds they need.” Does everyone know that?
- “Otherwise sensible Americans finding Marine LePen sensible.”
I could go on, and on, and on. But if you show me a single, well-constructed poll indicating that “People understand this” in America–no less “the West”–I’ll gladly say, “Well, I was wrong.”
I will be so relieved to be wrong that I will weep with relief to be on the losing side of an argument. I want to believe you so badly that my pride means nothing–zero–to me on this one. Please, please, tell me I’m wrong.
If anyone doubts where I really am, I’ll grab a copy of tomorrow’s newspaper in Paris and take a photo of myself with it. But I could, as you know, manipulate that quickly, with photoshop. If anyone can think of a better and more convincing test, I am happy to do it. I don’t really care if it involves some kind of violation of my privacy.
I am an American citizen, in Paris. Terrorist attacks in Paris are rare. They do not terrify me. They do not make me want to flee. Seeing Sputnik news, in Paris, terrifies me–and makes me want to flee. But I don’t know where to run.
My passport says, “America.” That makes things clear: my first responsibility is to do everything in my power to get Americans to grasp this, no matter where I am. And to explain that they need to grasp this fast–and get the rest of the world to grasp it, too.