4 Things Western Democracies Need to Understand to Stop Hostile Kremlin Meddling
Governments should use the free press to their advantage by openly investigating disinformation campaigns
In 2015, I started the Kremlin Watch Program at a think-tank in Prague. My team analyzes Russian influence and disinformation operations, and we have helped the Czech government tailor a national strategy. We publish papers, propose strategies, and have been invited to consult in 16 countries—mostly European—so far. These are four lessons I have learned from my experience.
#1. Putin’s regime wants to call itself a superpower and to be respected as such. Apart from having nuclear weapons and large territory, Russia has nothing that makes it anything more than a regional dictatorship with living standards of a developing country. Freedom of speech in Russia is worse than in Zimbabwe, political opponents are shot or poisoned, journalists are assassinated, history is systematically falsified, and most major media outlets are controlled by the regime. Putin suppresses domestic opposition—from both political groups and independent media—because he has failed to deliver solid living standards for ordinary Russians over the course of the 17 years he has ruled. Russia has a lower GDP than Italy, and its average wages are lower than Romania’s.
On the international stage, there isn’t much to respect Russia for—apart from its status of a doping superpower; its occupation of Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova; and its covering up for bloody dictators like Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Western leftists need to wake up from their naïve dream of Russia being a champion of socialist ideals, and Western rightists should recognize that Russia is not a champion of conservative values; it suppresses individual freedoms and has the highest abortion rate in the world. Putin’s regime kills and bullies to get respected. Democracies need to denounce this paradigm. It worked at the end of 1980s, and it will work again if we stop buying into the Soviet dictatorship’s fear game.