To beat Vladimir Putin, we’re going to need to be a little more like him.
The last two weeks have witnessed the upending of the European order and the close of the post-Cold War era. With his invasion of Crimea and the instant absorption of the strategic peninsula, Vladimir Putin has shown that he will not play by the West’s rules. The “end of history” is at an end—we’re now seeing the onset of Cold War 2.0.
What’s on the Kremlin’s mind was made clear by Putin’s fire-breathing speech to the Duma announcing the annexation of Crimea, which blended retrograde Russian nationalism with a generous helping of messianism on behalf of his fellow Slavs, alongside the KGB-speak that Putin is so fond of. If you enjoy mystical references to Orthodox saints of two millennia past accompanied by warnings about a Western fifth column and “national traitors,” this was the speech for you.
Putin confirmed the worst fears of Ukrainians who think they should have their own country. But his ambitions go well beyond Ukraine: By explicitly linking Russian ethnicity with membership in the Russian Federation, Putin has challenged the post-Soviet order writ large.
For years, I studied Russia as a counterintelligence officer for the National Security Agency, and at times I feel like I’m seeing history in reverse. The Kremlin is a fiercely revisionist power, seeking to change the status quo by various forms of force. This will soon involve NATO members in the Baltics directly, as well as Poland and Romania indirectly. Longstanding Russian acumen in what I term Special War, an amalgam of espionage, subversion and terrorism by spies and special operatives, is already known to Russia’s neighbors and can be expected to increase.
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