Russia has recently been meddling in the affairs of other countries. For example, when Germany’s Angela Merkel admitted Syrian refugees causing a backlash among some of her constituents, Russia increased its Syrian bombing creating more refugees. Through Twitter accounts and its media outlets, Russia published false reports about the crime wave in Germany supposedly caused by the refugees. This had me thinking about conservatives who talk about crimes and diseases brought by immigrants to this country. They have little data to back up their claims and seldom mention that almost all seek to come to this country expecting to work hard. Moreover, they fail to mention that birth rates are dropping in the U.S., and we need those workers.
Before the vote on Scottish independence, Russian media, hoping to encourage the disruption of the United Kingdom, rattled on about bad consequences for Scotland if it remained in Great Britain. After the referendum failed, Russia cast doubt about the vote’s validity. Internet video suggested vote rigging, and the videos were promoted on Twitter by accounts based in Russia. Timothy Snyder in The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America states, “Although no actual irregularities were reported, roughly a third of Scottish voters gained the impression that something fraudulent had taken place.” Sound familiar?
Russia favored Brexit–anything to disrupt European unity–and over 400 Twitter accounts heavily promoting the “exit” position were traced to Russia. Russian media did not attack the outcome of the referendum. Snyder says, “This time, no Russian voice questioned the result, presumably since the voting had gone the way Moscow had wished. Brexit was a major triumph for Russian foreign policy to weaken the United Kingdom. The margin of the vote was 52% for leaving and 48% for staying.”
Why should Russia seek to destabilize other countries? There are at least two reasons. Masha Gessen reports in The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin that Putin understands strength to mean that “the country is as great as the fear it inspires.” Thus, Russia’s ability to influence the internal affairs of other countries demonstrates its powers. In addition, because Russia has not been able to raise itself up in the world, it has begun to define success “not in terms of prosperity and freedom but in terms of sexuality and culture, and [suggests] that the European Union (and the United States) be defined as threats not because of anything they did but because of the values they supposedly represented.” Russia’s method of moving up in the standings is to tear others down. Snyder points out, “The essence of Russia’s foreign policy is strategic relativism: Russia cannot become stronger, so it must make others weaker. The simplest way is to make them like Russia.”
The reasoning would suggest that Russia seems better or, at least, not so bad when people in other countries doubt their institutions and their society’s values. Russia suggested that a Conservative win in the UK was the result of a rigged election. If it can get Britishers to believe that, Russia’s elections appear similar to British ones. Moscow does not try “to project some ideal of their own, only to bring out the worst in the United States.” Under communism, the Soviet Union tried to convince the world that it had a better system than the west; one that would eventually prevail and bring a better life for the Soviets and people around the world. Russia no longer has that ideology. It cannot produce or promise an improving society; it can only tear down others.
It is more than a little frightening to picture Putin giggling in triumph, but he must be more than a little pleased with recent American trends as conservatives seek to undermine the basic validity of our elections. If, in this bastion of democracy, our votes are rigged, then Russian elections look better. The Russian portrayal of America as a land of sexual decadence is only promoted when conservatives “find” homosexual groomers everywhere except among themselves. Russia’s own repression of Russians who contest their country’s direction looks sounder when U.S. schools are portrayed as places for racial and woke indoctrination. The conservatives may not be consciously seeking to make Putin stronger, but they are unwittingly playing into his hands. Perhaps when the cameras are off, he runs victory laps around those huge conference tables he often sits behind wearing a MAGA cap. And giggling.