Shadow Government

Russia’s Hacking Is Only Putin’s Latest Outrage

This is not a time to pine for chummy relations with Russia's president.

ORENBURG, RUSSIA- SEPTEMBER 19: Russian President Vladimir Putin talks to officers as he attends Russias large-scale Center-2015 military exercises at Donguzsky Range September 19, 2015 in Orenburg, Russia, The exercises, aim to contain the outbreak of an armed conflict in Central Asia. Putin said this week that it's impossible to defeat Islamic State group without support of the government of Syria and that Moscow has provided military assistance to President Bashar al-Assad's regime and will continue to do so. (Photo by Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images)
ORENBURG, RUSSIA- SEPTEMBER 19: Russian President Vladimir Putin talks to officers as he attends Russias large-scale Center-2015 military exercises at Donguzsky Range September 19, 2015 in Orenburg, Russia, The exercises, aim to contain the outbreak of an armed conflict in Central Asia. Putin said this week that it's impossible to defeat Islamic State group without support of the government of Syria and that Moscow has provided military assistance to President Bashar al-Assad's regime and will continue to do so. (Photo by Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images)

Forget whether Russia’s hacking of the Democratic National Committee computer system and release of the committee’s emails to WikiLeaks were designed to benefit Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. Try to overlook, temporarily at least, the content of those emails, which have infuriated Bernie Sanders supporters. Put aside partisan politics for just one moment and stop to think what has happened: According to preliminary assessments by the U.S. government and private analysts, Russian intelligence agencies broke into the computer system of one of the two main political parties in the United States and released what they stole through WikiLeaks.

Such an act goes way beyond mere intelligence gathering. It was clearly designed to hurt the United States and damage our credibility. It may also have been meant to undermine Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton; Russian President Vladimir Putin, as has been reported, is not a huge fan of her, based on his accusations of her responsibility for protests in Russia in December 2011. The hack may have been orchestrated to boost Trump. In fact, it may well be a combination of these three things. But the bottom line is that the Russians have attacked not the DNC, or Clinton, but the United States, our political system, and our presidential election campaign, period!

To be clear, hacking into the DNC’s emails is not a one-off move. Russia launched a cyber-attack against Estonia in 2007 and tried to mess with the results of Ukraine’s election in 2014. The Kremlin’s trolls wreak havoc on Western journalists and websites.

But Russian actions go well beyond the realm of technology. Within the past eight years, Russia has invaded two of its neighbors: Ukraine starting in 2014 and Georgia in 2008, and illegally annexed Crimea. The country illegally maintains a troop presence in the separatist regions of South Ossetia, Abkhazia in Georgia, and in Moldova’s Transnistria. It does everything it can to prevent its neighbors from moving closer to Europe — by corrupting, destabilizing and, if necessary, invading them. Successful, reform-oriented, democratic neighbors, especially Ukraine, after all, could be dangerous alternative models to the system Putin oversees.

Together with Iran, the Putin regime has intervened militarily in Syria to prop up the murderous regime of Bashar al-Assad. Despite Secretary of State John Kerry’s futile efforts, the United States and Russia do not work towards common interests in the Middle East. Instead, Russia bombs sites in Syria that the United States has urged it to avoid. Russia has sold dangerous missile defense systems to Iran and is striking up new friendships with like-minded regimes in the region.

Russia recklessly buzzes American and NATO aircraft and ships, and threatens European nations if they host NATO’s missile defense system. It regularly demonizes the West and the United States in particular, alleging that we are the greatest danger to Russia and conjuring up nonsensical Western conspiracy theories against the Kremlin. And if all that were not enough, Putin has launched the ugliest crackdown on human rights inside Russia in decades, with opponents harassed, arrested, even killed; NGOs closed down; minority groups denied their basic rights; and Russian orphans denied loving homes in the United States because of Putin’s spite over the Magnitsky legislation.

After each example of egregious Russian government behavior, I ask myself: When do we say enough is enough? How many more Ukrainians must die — the number is approaching 10,000 — due to Russian aggression, before we say more sanctions are warranted, not fewer — a change that Trump has hinted he might support? How many more countries must Putin invade before we treat him and his regime as the serious threat it is? And how much will we let him interfere with our own election before we draw a line?

Whether Putin is operating out of strength or weakness is an interesting question — but to a large degree beside the point. The track record cited above is enough proof of the harm he can and is causing. Putin may be taking his country off a cliff, but we need to make sure he does not take others plummeting with him.

This is not a time to pine for chummy relations with Putin; it is a time to show spine and strength and stand up to the danger he poses.

Photo credit: SASHA MORDOVETS/Getty Images

David J. Kramer is a senior fellow in the Vaclav Havel Program on Human Rights and Diplomacy at Florida International University’s Green School of International and Public Affairs and a former assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor.

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