Michael A. McFaul writes: A quarter-century ago, at the end of the Cold War, it seemed that only democracies promoted their values abroad. Today, autocracies have entered the arena again, exporting their ideas and methods — even to the United States.
Everywhere, autocrats are pushing back against democrats, and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia is the de facto leader of this global movement.
Since returning to the Kremlin in 2012, Mr. Putin has consolidated his hold on power in Russia. With renewed vigor, he’s weakened civil society, undermined independent media, suppressed any opposition and scared off big business from supporting government critics. And he made the United States and its senior officials unwitting elements of his malign strategy.
While I was the United States ambassador to Russia, Mr. Putin accused President Obama’s administration of seeking to foment revolution against him — as, allegedly, we had done in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria during the Arab Spring. Russia’s state-controlled media portrayed Russian protesters as traitors, puppets of the United States, who took money and orders from Washington. Mr. Putin took special offense to Hillary Clinton, then secretary of state, claiming her criticism of the fairness of the 2011 Russian parliamentary election was a “signal” to Russian demonstrators.
While chastising us for supposedly meddling in his internal affairs, Mr. Putin expanded his campaign to weaken democracy abroad. Kremlin-aligned media like the TV station RT have championed his policies internationally, while challenging the legitimacy of democratic leaders, including our own president. Around the world, but especially in Europe, the Russian government supports — by both rhetorical and financial means — political parties and organizations with illiberal, nationalist agendas. Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and its intervention in eastern Ukraine in support of separatists, as well as the invasion of Georgia in 2008, were violent efforts to destabilize new democracies. [Continue reading…]