Publisher’s note: Frida Ghitis, (@fridaghitis) A former producer and correspondent for CNN, she is a columnist on world affairs. She is a weekly opinion contributor for CNN, a columnist for The Washington Post, and a columnist for the World Politics Review. The opinions expressed in this comment belong solely to the author of it.
(CNN) — The United States and its NATO allies have avoided a direct confrontation with Russia so far, but even if they can avoid a military battle in Ukraine, further clashes are almost certain to follow.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is well aware that the West, led by the United States, has become the arsenal of Ukraine’s defense against Russian invasion. That defense has so far turned the “special military operation” of Putin in a humiliating experience for the Russian strongman who, like other authoritarian leaders, does not take humiliation well.
That is why it is very likely that Putin will seek revenge on the United States.
US intelligence officials believe Putin is now ready to act more aggressively against the United States, possibly taking more risky actions against American democracy. This information comes from interviews conducted by CNN and other news organizations with multiple sources familiar with US intelligence assessments.
The intelligence assessment has not concluded that Putin has made a decision or ordered an operation so far, but the White House has warned private companies to beef up their security against Russian hacking. Of course, that is only one of the points that Russia could attack.
A furious Putin, exasperated by the Ukraine debacle, also appears to be lashing out at his own advisers. The research group bellingcat says that Putin has carried out a “Stalinist” purge, with more than 100 intelligence officials removed from their posts in recent days. And there is no doubt that Putin is also furious with NATO, with the United States and with President Joe Biden himself.
Although Putin has many possible targets, perhaps none are more prominent, more attractive and more familiar than an American political system that is more chaotic than at any time in modern memory. America’s battered democracy, marked by its painful political divisions, is exposed to be exploited. Since Putin has exploited those divisions in the past, it seems increasingly likely that he will try to do so again.
And political divisions not only pit Democrats and Republicans against each other, but are also sharpening within the Republican Party. In Georgia, for example, supporters of the Big Lie, the false claim that the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump, they booed Gov. Brian Kemp, a staunch Republican facing a primary challenger from a chosen candidate handpicked by the former president.
Putin already interfered in the 2016 election. Multiple investigations, including by former special prosecutor Robert Mueller, found that Russia interfered from “comprehensive and systematic“, searching help trump to reach the presidency.
Since Trump appears to view mentions of the election interference question the legitimacy of his 2016 election victory, could complicate efforts to warn the American public if Putin launches a campaign to interfere in either the 2022 midterms or the 2024 presidential election.
It didn’t help Trump’s cause much that just two weeks ago publicly offered Putin a way to retaliate against Biden, which conveniently fits with Trump’s future political ambitions. In an interview with the conservative network Just the News, Trump suggested that Putin should find dirty laundry about President Biden’s son Hunter Biden’s alleged shady dealings in Russia, an allegation so far unproven. The petition came as Russia bombed the Ukrainian civilian population, prompting international investigations into possible war crimes.
It was a call that reminded the infamous message of Trump in 2016, “Russia, if you’re listening…” — asking Russia to help find the emails of then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Trump claims he was just kidding, and yet five hours after thatAccording to Mueller’s investigation, hackers working for Russia’s military intelligence hacked into at least more than 50 Democratic Party computers, stealing emails that were later published with a exquisitely detrimental timing for maximum damage to the Clinton campaign.
So what will Putin do this time?
Every night, Russian state-controlled television channels lively debate the issue. Malek Dudakov, a Russian political scientist, recently offered his strategy preferred against the West: “With Europe, economic wars should take precedence. With the United States, we should work to amplify divisions and … deepen polarization.”
Evgeny Popov, a Russian state television presenter who is also a member of the Duma, Russia’s parliament, declared that it is time to ask the Americans to carry out a regime change in america before Biden’s term ends and “help our partner Trump be president again.”
With Russian television regularly boosting Republican figures, especially Trump, while disparaging Biden, some Republicans, especially those most devoted to the former president, may have a harder time rejecting the Kremlin’s propaganda.
Putin could launch new weapons with which to attack American democracy. But, if he finally decides to interfere in the US election, he will almost certainly bring up his old playbook, which he has deployed in the US and other countries. His agents and his supporters probably will spread disinformation, will launch cyber attacks Y they will increase the volume of the voices in favor of Putin in the United States.
how have indicated Russia watchers, Russian viewers are getting heavy doses of Tucker Carlson and other far-right Americans on their late-night shows. Carlson, a top-rated Fox News anchor, is returning the favor, amplifying Russian propaganda on his show as recently as last week. It is a toxic feedback loop of disinformation serving Putin’s goals in Russia and in the United States.
When Russian officials, for example, falsely claimed that the United States was financing biological laboratories in Ukraine so that Ukraine could attack Russia, the White House and others warned that this could be the precursor to Russia using chemical weapons in Ukraine and then blaming Kyiv. But, on his show, Carlson repeated the history of the Kremlin. So, Russian television broadcast clips of Carlson on Fox News trying to give credibility to the Russian lie. With this, disinformation spread in the United States and was consolidated in Russia.
In addition to a strong response from the US government, the American people have a role to play in defending themselves against another likely attack from Russia. Putin’s problems in Ukraine call for heightened vigilance and close scrutiny of information, especially when he repeats Russian propaganda.
Of course, all parties to a conflict try to craft their own narrative, but it is the Kremlin that has the well-established pattern of lying, fueling hostilities, and spreading disinformation. It seems quite likely that Putin will try harder to turn the Americans against him, seeking revenge for US aid to Ukraine. The current atmosphere in the United States makes that seem like an easy victory for Putin, but perhaps the Americans, after seeing Putin’s atrocities in Ukraine, will put up some resistance.