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Russia expert Fiona Hill on how Putin takes advantage of American dysfunction

Hill, whose testimony featured prominently in the first Trump impeachment trial, has written an article for Foreign Affairs recapping what she learned and figured about Putin and Russia and how Putin utilized Trump.

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Sputnik/Alexey Nikolskiy/Kremlin via REUTERS
Russian President Vladimir Putin
Remember Fiona Hill, the British-accented (but American citizen), very smart Russia expert from the National Security Council who became briefly famous for her testimony during the first Trump impeachment process?

I sure do. She impressed me with her testimony, her subject expertise, her working-class accent, her Harvard Ph.D. and her integrity when she testified.

She’s out of government service now as a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and she’s just written a recap of what she learned and figured about Putin and Russia and how Putin utilized Trump for the November/December issue of the journal Foreign Affairs. Her piece is titled: “The Kremlin’s Strange Victory: How Putin Exploits American Dysfunction and Fuels American Decline.”

It’s not short; it’s very smart while still understandable; it’s accessible right here; and if you have time go there now, don’t waste any more time.

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But, if you’re still here, I’ll offer a few excerpts and provide the link again at the bottom. The excerpts start just below. Hill wrote:

It would have been impossible for any close observer of recent Russian history to not recall those episodes on January 6, when a mob whipped up by Trump and his allies—who had spent weeks claiming that the 2020 election had been stolen from him—stormed the U.S. Capitol and tried to stop the formal certification of the election results. The attack on the Capitol was the culmination of four years of conspiracies and lies that Trump and his allies had fed to his supporters on social media platforms, in speeches, and on television. The “Big Lie” that Trump had won the election was built on the backs of the thousands of little lies that Trump uttered nearly every time he spoke and that were then nurtured within the dense ecosystem of Trumpist media outlets. This was yet one more way in which, under Trump, the United States came to resemble Russia, where Putin has long solidified his grip on power by manipulating the Russian media, fueling nationalist grievances, and peddling conspiracy theories…

…Putin also blurs the line between domestic and foreign policy to distract the Russian population from the distortions and deficiencies of his rule. On the one hand, he stresses how decadent and dissolute the United States has become and how ill suited its leaders are to teach anyone a lesson on how to run a country. On the other hand, he stresses that the United States still poses a military threat and that it aims to bring Russia to its knees. Putin’s constant refrain is that the contest between Russia and the United States is a perpetual Darwinian struggle and that without his leadership, Russia will not survive. Without Putin, there is no Russia. He does not want things to get completely out of hand and lead to war. But he also does not want the standoff to fade away or get resolved. As the sole true champion of his country and his people, he can never be seen to stand down or compromise when it comes to the Americans.

Similarly, Putin must intimidate, marginalize, defuse, or defeat any opposition to his rule. Anyone who might stand in his way must be crushed. In this sense, the jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and [Hillary] Clinton fall into the same category. In Putin’s view, if Clinton had become U.S. president, she would have continued to hound him and hold him to task, just as she did when she served as secretary of state in the Obama administration, by promoting democracy and civil society to root out corruption in Russia….

…The polarization of American society has become a national security threat, acting as a barrier to the collective action necessary for combating catastrophes and thwarting external dangers. Partisan spectacles during the global covid-19 pandemic have undermined the country’s international standing as a model of liberal democracy and eroded its authority on public health. The United States’ inability to get its act together has hindered the projection of American soft power, or what Biden has called “the power of our example.” During my time in the Trump administration, I watched as every peril was politicized and turned into fodder for personal gain and partisan games. Successive national security advisers, cabinet members, and their professional staffs were unable to mount coherent responses or defenses to security issues in the face of personalized, chaotic, and opportunistic conduct at the top…

And, lastly, her advice to Trump’s successor:

Biden must do everything in his power to restore trust in government and to promote fairness, equity, and justice. As many Americans learned during Trump’s presidency, no country, no matter how advanced, is immune to flawed leadership, the erosion of political checks and balances, and the degradation of its institutions. Democracy is not self-repairing. It requires constant attention.

I won’t intrude on “Foreign Affairs” to borrow any more of Hill’s wisdom. The full piece is smart, clear and accessible. Read the whole thing. Here’s another link to make that easy.

And have a great weekend.