patten117_GREG BAKERPOOLAFP via Getty Images_xi putin Greg Baker/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Democracy and Decency

Whatever their Western apologists may claim, Russia and China are clearly trying to weaken liberal democracies by attacking the values that underpin them. Open societies – including the United States under a president who believes in alliances – must unite in defense of what they know is right.

LONDON – We have long been dangerously slow to recognize, let alone resist, the undermining of liberal democracies by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s post-KGB thugocracy and China’s more economically successful version of aggressive Leninism.

I saw the Russian side of the problem up close when I was the European Union’s commissioner for external affairs from 1999 to 2004. Too many European countries, led by Silvio Berlusconi’s Italy, thought that they could do business with Putin, and perhaps even turn him into a geostrategic ally. Meanwhile, Putin was presiding over a regime that sought to overturn the post-World War II international order and to fracture both the EU and the transatlantic alliance. Putin’s regime bullied neighbors, invaded other countries, and murdered its critics even on foreign soil.

Moreover, Putin and his cronies understood very clearly liberal capitalism’s weak spot: the greed of those who were usually already rich. Just consider how much of London – property, businesses, and members of the political elite – Russian money bought in the 1990s and the aughts of this century. And Russian cyberwarfare and money have recently distorted both American and British politics, the latter most egregiously during the 2016 Brexit referendum campaign.

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