How Dangerous Is Putin?

LONDON – Is US President Donald Trump right to be sympathetic toward Russia? At first blush, it certainly does not seem so. In Russia, elections are rigged, and organized opposition is suppressed. And under President Vladimir Putin, the country has reverted to Cold War tactics against domestic dissidents and foreign targets, including the United States.

Putin’s government has flooded the West with so many spies that there are now more in Britain than during the Cold War. It has carried out vendettas abroad and is believed to have murdered a host of opponents – including journalists, activists, and political leaders – at home. Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 was the first unilateral land grab in Europe since 1945. The Russian military has intervened in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, ruthlessly bombed civilians and rebel groups in the Syrian city of Aleppo, and brutalized Georgia and Chechnya.

This litany of horrors – a highly abbreviated one, at that – would seem to put the case to rest. Surely Trump is wrong to trust Russia’s most ruthless leader since Stalin.

But how big a threat does Russia actually pose to the West? After all, Russia has generally upheld its arms-control agreements with the US. And while Russia is beefing up its armed forces and introducing new battle tanks from an old rusting base, it does not have the economic and industrial might to sustain any long-term war effort – and its leaders know this.