Whenever America is in crisis, Russia is its whipping boy

Russians are watching the unfolding scandal of their country’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. election with a mixture of amusement, pride, indignation and regret. For a historian of U.S.-Russian relations like myself, the steady flow of anti-Russian cant by the media and among opportunistic politicians is an old story that is repeating itself once again: When America is in crisis, Russia is the ready whipping boy.

Supporters of Russian President Vladimir Putin are proud of the great abilities of the Russian state and its mighty leader who, through his wise and wily ways, was able to influence even the selection of the U.S. president. State propagandists deny all accusations of election meddling, while, at the same time, using the ongoing obsession with Russia to trumpet Putin’s success as a world-class leader to whom other nations must pay heed.

Russian liberal critics of Putin’s regime are upset for exactly the same reason. They believe that the American media and political class have inflated Putin’s significance well beyond his actual capacity. In the view of Russian liberals, America’s continuing obsession for a second year in a row only bolsters his otherwise fading popularity at home. They also worry that the image of an American political system that is so easily vulnerable to relatively minor interference promotes anti-democratic ideas and rhetoric in Russia.