Staunton, September 15 – In Bild, Russian opposition leader Gary Kasparov says that unfortunately, “Europe wasn’t able to export democracy to Russia; but Russia has been able to export corruption to Europe” and to use it to promote the idea that it is time to end sanctions and resume “business as usual” (bild.de/bild-plus/politik/ausland/politik-ausland/russland-schach-genie-garri-kasparow-im-bild-interview-angst-vor-putins-rache-64561402,view=conversionToLogin.bild.html).
The issue of the ways in which Russia and the West influence each other’s society by what many on each side call “interference” and why Russia has been more successful in recent s years than the West is discussed by Kseniya Kirillova, a US-based Russian journalist, in an essay for Radio Liberty (svoboda.org/a/30153922.html).
Kirillova cites the observation of Russian rights activist Olga Abramenko that Russians have a long history of looking for the ways in which foreign powers are thought to be involved in Russia’s affairs “at a minimum since the times of the Decembrists because the authorities use this to distract attention to domestic problems (svoboda.org/a/30133255.html).
“But today’s search for ‘foreign interference’ is not simply a bow to tradition or the standard attempt to distract the attention of the citizens of Russia from internal problems,” the Russian journalist says. “This action is the only means for the survival of the Putin regime” which can’t the country’s problems and must find someone to blame for the situation.
In sum, Kirillova continues, “the situation with regard to Russia and its eternal complaints about external enemies is completely understandable but the situation in which ‘the geopolitical opponents’ of Moscow find themselves is much more complicated.”
“On the one hand, ‘the Russian threat’ in the countries of the West really exists” and ignoring it opens “a clear breach in the national security” of these countries. But “on the other hand,” obsessive attention to it puts the Western democracies at risk of behaving like Russia, reducing self-criticism and avoiding taking up real problems by blaming outsiders.
Doing that can inflict “serious harm” on these countries and has done so on occasion, Kirillova continues, although she argues that Western democracies with their free press, division of power, and relatively smaller participation of the state in the economy have many defense mechanisms against that risk.
Many European states regularly talk about foreign threats, but the US in contrast most often focuses on theories of domestic conspiracies such as the now-popular notion of “the deep state.” But Americans after the Mueller report on Russian interference in the 2016 elections can have no doubt that Moscow has been doing that right along.
Finding the right balance between ignoring this threat and obsessing about it to the point of inflicting harm on one’s own country in the West is not easy, Kirillova argues. But one good way to seek it is to discuss “Russian influence operations together with discussions the real problems which the Kremlin seeks to exploit.”
That is important to do because “the Russian special services are not capable of creating new problems and conflicts in Western societies, even though they are masters at using already existing disagreements, intensifying them to the maximum extent possible, and dramatizing them to the largest possible audience.”
“Paradoxically,” Kirillova says, Russian influence operations if treated in a serious way can be useful to Western societies if they are seen as an indication of what problems need to be addressed now because they become more dangerous “even without any participation by Russia from the outside.”