But there’s a deeper dimension to Russia’s actions, which deserves the free world’s urgent attention: its capacity to silently influence domestic legislation and policy-making between elections.
With his success in the US last year, Putin has put opponents on notice that there will be a price to pay for crossing him. Indeed, the complex infrastructure that Russia built to infect public discourse with false or stolen information isn’t going anywhere. It can be unleashed at any time, on any issue, domestic or international.
This came into sharp relief this weekend when President Trump implied a sort of moral equivalence between the Putin regime and the US, a stunning reversal of long-standing policy. We are no longer talking about how to confront Russia, but whether we should confront it at all – a big win for Putin. Trump and the vice-president, Mike Pence, have also been frighteningly tentative about whether to maintain sanctions against Moscow.
But the example of President Trump is somewhat deceptive. Russian oligarchs eager to park their money in overseas real estate have been such an integral part of Trump’s personal fortune, and Putin’s role in this election was so outsized, it’s no wonder Trump is friendly. We may think that Trump is different – that his presidency, and this Russia problem, is temporary. Not so.