What Does Russia Want from the West?

The Federalist writes about Russia’s recent high-profile cyberattacks on the USA, some of which are quite mysterious, as they mainly seem to want to disrupt Americans’ trust in their own political system.

Attacks from Russia targeted the upcoming American elections in different ways. At first glance, they seemed to mainly intent to harm Hillary Clinton (and hence “support” Donald Trump). But the Federalist suggests a different reading of the attacks:

At first glance, it looks like Russia favors Donald Trump and wants to undermine Clinton. And why not? Trump is certainly the pro-Kremlin candidate. He has nice things to say about Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, and even said he would be “looking into” recognizing Crimea as part of Russia. It would be easy to conclude, as some commentators have, that Putin wants to see Trump in the White House.

However, the truth isn’t quite that simple. As tempting as it is to see Russia as a partisan player on Trump’s side, the Kremlin’s goal isn’t to see a particular candidate win. The goal is much more insidious: to undermine American confidence in our political system. That is, the Kremlin’s real target is liberal democracy itself.

This makes sense, and may explain the Russian hacks into America’s electoral system:

On Monday, Yahoo News reported the FBI discovered evidence that foreign hackers penetrated two state election databases, in Arizona and Illinois. The hacks prompted the FBI’s Cyber Division to issue a “flash” alert to state election officials across the country, warning them to enhance the security of their computer systems. Federal officials believe hackers managed to download the personal data of some 200,000 Illinois voters and introduce malicious software into Arizona’s voter registration system.

Similar attacks were observed in (potential-NATO-member) Sweden, and in (faltering-NATO-member) Turkey:

During recent public debates in Sweden about entering a military partnership with NATO, for example, social media was inundated with false information about what the partnership would entail, including wild claims that NATO would stockpile secret nuclear weapons on Swedish soil and it would have the authority to attack Russia from Sweden without the government’s approval. (…)

Something similar happened during the recent coup attempt in Turkey, with a flood of Twitter posts claiming the U.S. airbase at Incirlik had been surrounded by thousands of armed police. The story didn’t gain the same traction as the anti-NATO narrative did in Sweden, but it demonstrates the extent to which Moscow is willing to employ Twitter trolls in coordination with official news channels like RT.com and Sputnik, the two main state-controlled media outlets that publish in English, to advance false storylines and distorted information.

What’s Russia’s end-game goal with these attacks? Are they provoked by domestic politics – fuelling tensions with the West to strengthen Putin’s domestic position? Or are there realpolitik reasons to want to destabilize NATO (the West’s armed forces) in order for Russia to gain more influence on its Western boarders?

One needs to follow the money in order to analyse Russia’s intentions. Putin’s money, obviously, given the President Almighty’s stronghold on the country.

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