The crisis in the West’s liberal democracies is strengthening the Kremlin’s hand

Natalie Nougayrède writes: Lenin once said: “The capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them.” Vladimir Putin is no Lenin, nor can his regime – run by an elite that enjoys offshore accounts and oligarchic privileges – quite be described as anti-capitalist. Yet in Russia’s new confrontation with the west, the Kremlin’s strategy is to exploit western weaknesses and confusion as much as it is geared towards showing a bellicose face, whether in Ukraine, Syria or cyberspace. Perhaps this is why the head of MI5 has warned of the need to fend off Russia’s hostile interference.

Lenin is not Putin’s ideological guru. Foreigners, whether public officials or investors, who have at length met with Putin sometimes point to his particular brand of pragmatism (even if Angela Merkel once said he “lives in another world”). If he senses strong pushback, he adapts. If he detects gaps, he strikes at the Achilles heel.

There is little doubt Russian power is on the offensive. Since 2014, when it deployed its troops in Ukraine and annexed territory there, and since its policies in Syria have been analysed as overtly hostile to western endeavours, “Russian aggressiveness” has become a mainstay of the west’s official political discourse. But beyond boasting about Russia’s nuclear forces, demonstrating its new conventional military capacities and activating an army of internet trollers (none of which should be minimised), Putin’s regime is banking on the hope that western democracies will falter and be unable to offer up genuine resistance.

He’s essentially waiting for that rope to be handed over. Brexit is one section of it, because in Russian eyes it has the potential to divide the west. The growth of national-populist movements in Europe and elsewhere is another, because it echoes the Kremlin’s illiberal narrative and produces useful allies. Radical leftwing anti-Americanism also fits handily into the picture, as it did decades ago when pacifists demonstrated in the west while missiles were being deployed by the eastern bloc during the cold war. [Continue reading…]

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