Putin’s Information Wars

, Steven Koskulitz, Leave a comment

The information wars of Vladimir Putin are mainly a United States problem, Stephen Kotkin, a professor of history and international affairs at Princeton University said on November 1 at the Cato Institute.

He said: “We are the issue. It’s our technology. Putin information wars are not really Putin information wars- they’re American information wars and we have to solve this problem” and “…a lot of it has to do with our institutions, our technology, our behavior, our governance, our lack of governance, etc.”

While he does not condone Putin’s behavior, he thinks that the danger that Russia poses right now to the United States is exaggerated: “…it’s a gangster regime(Putin’s) but it is not an existential threat and it can be dealt with in a way that doesn’t require 24/7 attention or massive investments in the kinds of things that we did during the Cold War.” He is the author of the books Stalin: Waiting for Hitler and Uncivil Society: 1989 and the Implosion of the Communist Establishment.

Kotkin is opposed to what Russia is doing now but does not view this situation as very similar to what happened to Russia under communism. In order to help people understand the Russia situation, Kotkin mentioned things that authoritarian governments need to have today: an oppressive apparatus(which cannot be too efficient or else there could be a coup), cash flow, control over life chances, and stories or narratives that speak to the citizens’ fears and dependence on the government.

Another factor that can be important for authoritarian governments is the international system, but the authoritarian governments have less control over this than the other four. He is not satisfied with the current foreign policy towards Russia, and said: “…we need a relationship with them where we don’t have to appease them, we don’t have to give in to them, we don’t have to surrender to them, but we can’t pretend we’re going to do things we aren’t going to do-like send a quarter million troops to Ukraine…”and “…ultimately we need a relationship with Russia that recognizes that they exist, that they’re still there. This doesn’t mean rewarding good behavior but it does mean… being realistic about our ability to overturn what Russia did and or defend that settlement from 1991…when Russia was flat on its back…”

He argued that diplomacy is the way to deal with Russia. He said that the sanctions put on Russia now were too weak, and suggested dealing with the United States’ vulnerabilities that Russia exploits such as offshoring.