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The Russians Are Coming

Though leading experts agree that Russia and the West are locked in a new cold war that is both similar and distinct from the original, opinions differ when it comes to assigning blame and assessing the stakes. To answer those questions, one first must define the conflict accurately.

PHILADELPHIA – Is Russia engaged in a new type of war against the West? If so, what effect might it be having on Western politics? Such questions are roiling the United States after the publication of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, which states unequivocally that Russia launched a “sweeping and systematic” attack on US democratic institutions during the 2016 presidential election.

The same questions are also pertinent to Europe, where voters this week are casting their ballots in the European Parliament election. During the campaign, Italy’s interior minister and deputy prime minister, Matteo Salvini of the right-wing League party, was reportedly offered financial assistance from Russia to advance the Euroskeptic cause. That came as no surprise. The single largest donation to the Brexit “Leave” campaign in 2016, after all, came from a man who had been offered a gold deal in Russia at a meeting set up by the Russian ambassador to the United Kingdom during the campaign. Likewise, in the 2017 French presidential election, Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Front campaigned with funds furnished by a Russian bank.

And now Austria has been plunged into political turmoil, following the release of a video – recorded three months before the election in 2017 – that captures Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache offering infrastructure contracts to a woman claiming to be the niece of a Russian oligarch. In exchange, the woman agrees to support the election campaign of Strache’s far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) and invest €250 million ($279 million) in Austria.

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