Bill O’Reilly has assembled a series of historical novels detailing with incredible accuracy events that changed the course of history. In each instance he has introduced the title as “Killing . . .” (Killing Lincoln, Killing Jesus, Killing the Rising Sun, etc.) They are immensely entertaining and I read each one as it is published.
I start with this because I have shamelessly copied his title penchant with Killing Putin*although this is not a historical piece by any stretch of the imagination. Rather this is a prescription for eliminating one of the most significant threats to the free world.
President Vladmir Putin has ruled Russia for the past eighteen years either as president or prime minister. He is a ruthless ex-KGB officer who routinely dispatches opponents and enemies via untimely deaths – accidents, poisoning, terminal incarceration, or simply permanently missing.
While he may be a Communist he is most certainly not a communist in the traditional sense. He realized that Russia was flat broke in the aftermath of President Ronald Reagan’s “peace through strength” initiative that led to the break up of the old Soviet Union. The downfall of the Soviet Union led to the rise of the oligarchs in Russia – a group of opportunists who took control of the major elements of the Russian economy and became immensely wealthy is the process. The oligarchs became monopolists through fear, intimidation, and murder. As a group they were as ruthless as Mr. Putin. Individually some were even more so, to the point of intimidating Mr. Putin himself.
Mr. Putin recognized the advantage of joining the oligarchs and the government into a mutual-aid pact that would retain Mr. Putin in power while preserving economic dominance for the oligarchs. It was the same “devils bargain” employed by Adolph Hitler with the German industrialists (steel, coal, manufacturing, banking and electronics) in his rise to power in Germany. And while Mr. Putin retains and increases his political power and the oligarchs get richer, Russia continues to suffer both economically and politically. Russian society remains poor. Access to consumer goods, while better than in the days of the Soviet Union, are still far from other European nations and even much of China and India. The Russian economy is overwhelmingly dependent on the export of oil, gas and coal. It is vulnerable to targeted economic pressure.
Mr. Putin appears to be trying to regain the position of a superpower equivalent to the halcyon days of the Soviet Union. And he understands that it is the United States that stands in his way. He lacks the financial resources to compete directly with either the United States or China in either an economic or an arms race. Despite that he continues to cause trouble by seizing the Crimea, arming Bashar al Assad in Syria (including chemical weapons), and peddling arms to every terrorists group throughout the Middle East. But more importantly he recognizes that the new theatre of war is cyberspace.
Cyber warfare is relatively cheap compared to conventional warfare – a plethora of high-end computers and a roomful of geeks and you have an army – thus the “troll farm” in St. Petersburg benignly named the Internet Research Agency. According to Business Insider the cyber warfare firm is financed by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian oligarch and close friend of Mr. Putin (an example of the mutual aid pact between Mr. Putin and the ruthless Russian oligarchs). With these troll farms Mr. Putin has gathered detailed information from Western federal, state and local governments that insist on collecting information and storing it with minimal security. Add to that the information that we “voluntarily,” albeit unwittingly give to the likes of Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Alphabet (Apple), and virtually every retail outlet and financial institution in America, which then circulate it throughout the cyber world through “cloud based” storage. The internet merchants of information beguile citizens with the notion of “impenetrable” encryption techniques all of which, while highly exotic, can be overcome particularly with supercomputers – which are present in Russia.
We have seen the Russian troll farms attack our banking and financial institutions, the power grid, other utility functions, state voting information data bases, the email accounts of politicians, and on and on and on. These attacks gather information (including national security information), plant false information, steal money, disrupt operations, and skew information data bases. The costs of defending against these attacks is enormous – a 2017 study by Accenture concluded that businesses employing more than 1,000 people averaged nearly $11.7M each in 2017 representing a twenty-three percent increase from the previous year. But those costs pale in comparison to the damage that has been done and can be done as a result of these cyber attacks. Add to that the extraordinary distrust that Russian interference in the American electoral process has sown in our political system using mostly cyber attacks. One wonders why liberal/progressives continue to advocate for online voting when it is so easy to manipulate voting through cyber attacks. Securing our voting system should remind politicians that the need for voter identification should take precedence over the minor inconvenience of voter identification.
In addition, Mr. Putin’s Russian thugs are experts at corruption and have employed it where the willing can be found. Most notable are the vast sums moved to Ms. Clinton, her husband and their “charity” in exchange for vesting control of a substantial portion of the nation’s uranium supply. Elsewhere, European politicians have also succumbed to the corruption pedaled by the Russians (see below).
But we are not without capability and resources to confront and defeat Russia under Putin. And the most important resource is the financial capabilities of our economy. President Reagan used an arms race to crush the Soviet economy which resulted in the dissolution of the Soviet empire. It was a flexing of America’s economic might as much as it was a flexing of military might. And today, Russia is even more vulnerable to the exercise of America’s economic might coupled with a cyber warfare race.
Two things need to occur simultaneously. First, the ability to stop Russian penetration of America’s cyber world needs to be strengthened while increasing our capability to penetrate Russia’s cyber world. The normal response from Yale graduates at the State Department (white, male and Yale) will be that any active measures to interfere in Russia’s cyber world will only cause greater activities by the Russians. By what stretch of the imagination do these surrender monkeys think that continuing the policies of non-confrontation exercised under former President Barack Obama will stem the ambitions of Mr. Putin and his Russian oligarchs. Surely the ever escalating cyber attacks by Russia should remind people that silence in the face of a bully always results in more bullying. (What this country needs is a lot more Ambassador Nicki Haleys and Rep. Martha McSallys and a lot less John Kerrys and Hillary Clintons – both Yale graduates.)
And second, economic sanctions pointed clearly at Russia’s export products – particularly oil and gas – and Russia’s oligarchs should be implemented. Europe remains vulnerable to pressure from Russia because of their dependence on natural gas from Russia. (So much so that Germany allowed the construction of the massive Russian gas pipeline – Nord Stream – through Germany and enriched not only the oligarchs in Gazprom who control the gas and pipeline companies but former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder while former President Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry sat idly by.) The poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter by Putin’s thugs has given rise – at last – to European condemnation of Russia although it remains to be seen whether they will actually act. The United States and Canada have an overabundance of natural gas and sufficient cargo ships to replace the natural gas needs in Europe now filled by the Russians. In point of fact, the United States and its allies have the capabilities to destroy the Russian economy over night with little or no disruption in our own economies.
What is lacking, however, is the willingness to act. Successive presidents have succumbed to the idea of “partnering” with Mr. Putin only to be surprised when, like the Scorpion and the Frog, Mr. Putin strikes without warning and without regret. There are no better reminders than President George W. Bush declaring that he had looked into the eyes of Mr. Putin and found him to be someone that the United States could work with. Even more so when President Obama, again playing the supplicant to every world adversary, whispered to then Russian President Dmitri Medeved to convey to Mr. Putin that he, Mr. Obama, could be more flexible after his re-election was over – and he was. Mr. Trump too believed that he could find a partner in Mr. Putin and the jury is still out as to whether Mr. Trump will use the full resources of the country to combat the successive and growing threat from Russia in all its forms.
Hesitancy will only heighten Mr. Putin’s ambitions and increase his activities. Crushing the unholy alliance between a despot like Putin and his ruthless oligarch cronies is the only course of action that will free the Western world from his tyranny.
*For those of tender feelings, the title Killing Putin does not literally mean that I advocate killing him. Like many of Bill O’Reilly’s works it simply means a historical change that ends the influence of a person or group which results in a historical realignment.