Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Putin’s Plot Against America

It's Julia Ioffe, at Puck, "There is a growing fear in Washington that Russia will resort to hybrid tactics to inflict pain on Western powers in ways that it can no longer achieve through conventional warfare alone":

From Moscow’s vantage point, it isn’t simply the gross incompetence of its military and intelligence services that prevented Russia from seizing Ukraine in a flashy blitzkrieg last February. It was the fact that Ukraine was armed with NATO weaponry, its troops trained by NATO advisors, its intelligence services constantly fed information by Western intel agencies. Moscow has made no secret of this frustration or its assertion that the battle for Ukraine was a proxy war against the West, itself. This is why, from the very beginning, Moscow has framed this war as one not between Russia and Ukraine, but rather one between Russia and what Vladimir Putin and his coterie love to call “the collective West.” And, according to this consensual ideology, it is this collective West—not the incompetence of any generals or advisors—that has thwarted Putin’s aims of swallowing Ukraine and fulfilling his dream of a pan-Slavic super state with Moscow at its capital.

The Ukrainian military, which has come to be known as the MacGuyver army in defense circles, has fought bravely and with great flexibility, able to deftly outmaneuver what was once considered the second most potent army in the world, doing so with a patchwork of various weapons systems from all the various countries of Europe and the U.S. That’s not as easy as it seems. But Putin is not totally wrong. And, indeed, while Russia has punished the Ukrainian people a bushel and a peck and a noose around the neck, what about the West?

Yes, there have been inflationary pressures but that’s not enough: on the whole, the West is wealthy enough to withstand them. Last summer and fall, the West worried about a hard, cold winter exacerbated by the potential twin punch of high energy prices and Moscow’s ability to weaponize Europe’s dependence on Russian energy. As I explained in my dispatch last week, Russia originally thought it could punish the collective West, but that gun didn’t fire. Europe quickly diversified away from Russian oil and gas, depriving Russia of its main energy market.

The nuclear threat? Well, that worry seems to have abated a bit for now, too, mostly because, as I noted before, Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi have made very clear to Putin that they will wash their hands of him if he goes nuclear. Right now, isolated from the West, Putin needs them too much economically to risk his own isolation.

So what is left? People in the Biden administration are worried that this leaves Putin with one remaining option: unleashing a wave of asymmetric chaos across the West. Think political interference, cyberattacks, assassinations. “The Russians wrote the book on this but they haven’t turned it on,” said Marc Polymeropoulos, who once ran the C.I.A.’s operations in Europe, countering the Russian threat. “Why is that?”

Keep reading.