Let me be clear upfront. Russia is not a 'nice guy'. Also, Russia does a lot of crafty and sneaky stuff around the world. If you are a goofy guy like me, sitting in a hotel bar in Abu Dhabi (or anywhere else) and a stunningly hot young lady with a Slavic accent comes up and wants to sit and talk - the very wise thing to do is to leave the bar immediately (NOT WITH HER!) and look around for sketchy dudes following you before you go to your room. You might have been a target for intelligence exploitation or a mafia shake-down (or both because in Russia, those things mix well).
I spent most of my military career around guys that were comfortable and happy planning operations against Soviets and then Russians. Russa became the enemy of choice, it was easy, just pull out the files, no extra work required. Humans everywhere get comfortable and lazy.
But - Russia is a weak, sick man in the geopolitical arena. It still has some capability, it can still throw a punch, it can talk smack, spread rumors, and sometimes thwart your plans - but they are not a big scary bear.
I am speaking here broadly. Not about specific examples of if Russia did or did not 'interfere in the 2016 election' and specific details of that. Common-sense says of course they did, and so did a lot of folks with bad intention, foreign and domestic. The stakes are simply too big, of course, entities meddle and scheme. My argument here is that Russia is not the biggest threat we face and that in fact, there are and have been several instances when Russia was on the right side of things (that is seldom true of our other adversaries).
Some Russian Facts (broad terms)
- Militarily Russia has some capability, specifically regionally but they lack peer-capability in most areas and lack the ability to either project or sustain operations.
- Russian intelligence services are still robust, however, their 'sources and methods' are not nearly as formidable as they once were. Basically they lack the foundational 'ins' in the West.
- Economically Russia is a mess, they lost an entire decade in the 1990s, flawed Western policies have kept them from developing a market economy and joining the Western world in a significant way.
- Demographically Russia is a mess. They have a baby problem, they are not creating enough. They cannot populate the fertile areas in the east, Chinese immigrants are essentially invading southern Siberia snd making it a province of China.
- Their best export, extremely beautiful women, are to be found in hotel lobbies and bars across the middle-east and elsewhere.
- Since before Peter The Great, Europe has looked down upon and snubbed the Russians and the Slavs, never considering them exactly 'European'. This has played a significant role in the Russian self-image and foreign policy through Czarist Russia, the Soviet Union, and Putin's reign.
- Russia has come to see itself as the defender of the Slavs and Orthodox Christianity, The Czars believed this, it existed during the Soviet era (with less emphasis on Orthodox Christianity) and Putin continues it.
- Russian foreign policy centers on the 'near abroad' those historically Slavic states that border Russia proper. This is why Ukraine, Georgia, the Caucus, and the Balkans are important to them.
- Think of Russia like Mexico, if it stood up and issued their own version of the Monroe Doctrine, telling other powers if they are going to mess with the little Latin powers in Central America, they have to come through Mexico first.
- To the Russian, the fact that NATO did not dissolve in 1990 and US and Western intelligence agencies and militaries continued to plan for war against them was confusing. (the Russians knew they could barely drive tanks out of a motorpool at the time without breaking down.)
- In the Balkans conflict, the Russians stood for the Slavs and Christians in the Former Yugoslavia. Clinton, Wesley Clark, NATO, and the US stood with the Muslims that committed genocide against them.
- The Russians actively opposed Color Revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine. They succeeded in Georgia and failed in Ukraine.
- Russians support Armenia. Armenians were genocided by the Turks in WWI. Turkey today is working with Azerbaijan, conducting exercises and arming them, against Armenia. War is possible in the Caucus, Russia is on the right side.
- The Russians have supported the Kurds in Northern Iraq and Syria. They have defended Christians in those areas, something no other Western power is willing to do.
- Afghanistan is complex. Russia does stuff there. So does China. China is much more overt, direct and they come with big bags of money. Both are working to get the US out so they can exert control. Afghanistan borders Russia's traditional near abroad. It is the same as if Sweden occupied Mexico, we would have an interest in that.
A few years ago, after Georgia's failed Color revolution, we sent over 'cultural engagement teams' to try and 'get things back on track'. These teams included US military chaplains that were supposed to engage with Orthodox clergy and build rapport. Putin was doing the same thing, sending Russian Orthodox clergy down. We sent evangelicals from denominations that support western cultural values (social gospel types). It was a disaster. The Georgian clergy knew full well the objectives of the color revolutions and some of the policies pushed. They rejected our chaplains almost to a man, called them, and their denominations, out and rejected them.
Our Military-Intelligence machine has never accepted placing Russia on the back burner and turning the focus to China. In fact, there are people that have made a career on the "Russia desk", fighting for money and resources against other 'desks'. Most of these folks would simply not have a role if the focus shifted. It is personal, not professional that keeps a lot of these people singing the 'Russia is so bad song'.
A lot of big names in media have direct connections to our intelligence community, some did internships with the CIA. They were bought into the old way of thinking and the push Russia narrative early on.
China is a much bigger threat. (China: The Rising Dragon) China does everything Russia hopes to do but they can do it bigger and better. They are inside the US, own things, have 'sources and methods', and can back that up with an economy, a population a near-peer competitor military and a robust cyber, electromagnetic (CEMA) capability. China can, and probably has influenced elections in the US through domestic assets. Russia has to do it primarily through Voice of America type actions, the former is much more effective and harder to detect.
It is probably true that Russia's versions of VOA, RT, influence some. People that others call naive. It is just as likely. and probable, that China spies on, manipulates, manages information and the dispenser of information (media) from within to deceive and confuse those that laugh at the group that falls for Russian deception.
In broad terms, common-sense would tell us Russia probably did want Trump to win in 2016, and China probably wanted Clinton to win. Clinton represented the establishment attitude of trade with and appeasement of China and ignoring their internal genocide and external ambitions. Trump said upfront and for years China was the real threat in the world. Each very likely used their resources to ensure their prefered outcome. Meddling in domestic politics is part of geopolitics, it is the reality of the world. That fact, and the continuing discussion in the media that Russia is the only foreign state actor become disingenuous after a time. It would be more honest to argue that China, having failed to get elected a US president that would have a softer, more appealing attitude toward their goals in 2016 has really upped their game in 2020.
Looking at it through that lens, asking yourself why all the major media outlets pivot on a dime to retell new narratives that conflict with old perhaps then it is possible to see that maybe, just maybe all of this is something else. 2020 just might be The Empire Strikes Back, China has tripled-down on its efforts to manipulate us.
But Russia is not the biggest boogeyman in the world. They are a kid down the street that will throw rocks at us if we ostracized them, but would be ok to let into the clubhouse sometimes. We have to admit, they have stood up against some bad things in the world that we either supported or ignored.
I would rather have them with us in a coalition against China rather than left to swing on their own and act out in their own best interests as we isolate them.
An example today of China sophisticated CEMA efforts:
If all the above was not clear - Russia is a jerk. but China. China is Asshole!