Back in 1983, Ronald Reagan labeled the Soviet Union an "evil empire" during remarks before evangelical Christians in Florida. The president was warning about a buildup of Soviet strength and global menace, and the need to confront it.
History is now repeating itself. Today's Russia is a pale version of the communist regime that finally dissolved in 1991. But Russian President Vladimir Putin, famously embittered by that collapse, is bent on reacquiring some of that former glory.
Putin's Make Russia Great Again strategy is a font of international mayhem:
- Russia invaded neighboring Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014, where fighting rages on and 10,000 have died. Its illegal annexation of Crimea was the first effort to alter European borders by force since World War II. The Russian military, dispatched to Syria, shored up the regime of Bashar Assad and committed atrocities, bombing a United Nations aid convoy and targeting hospitals.
- High-confidence findings by the CIA, FBI and National Security Agency concluded that Putin ordered a cyber and propaganda attack to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election and undermine public faith in the American democratic process. Russian "trolls" posted false stories on Facebook that reached 140 million Americans, and Russian hackers stole thousands of emails from Democratic leaders and leaked them. Similar attacks have since occurred in Germany, France and the Netherlands.
- Other Russian aggression includes selling weapons to the Taliban in Afghanistan and oil to North Korea. The Kremlin also provides sanctuary to a rogue's gallery of cyber criminals,dispatches fighter aircraft that harass U.S. military jets in Syria and NATO aircraft over the Baltic, and sends submarines to prowl suspiciously close to crucial Atlantic undersea cables carrying 97% of global communications. All the while, Putin works to rig upcoming Russian elections in his favor.
The Trump administration's response to this mounting threat has been schizophrenic. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson writes in The New York Times that the Trump administration has "no illusions" about a resurgent Russia. And a suddenly tougher line emerged last month with the welcome announcement that anti-tank weapons would be sold to the Ukrainian government for defense against Russian-backed rebels.
OPPOSING VIEW: Arming Ukraine provokes Russia
Even so, these steps run contrary to President Trump's tendency toward appeasing Putin. The administration has slow-walked implementation of tough, new sanctions against Russia passed overwhelmingly by Congress last summer. The sanctions are to finally go into effect this month.
And Trump has not convened a Cabinet-level meeting on Russian interference in the presidential campaign. "When will all the haters and fools out there realize that having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing," Trump tweeted in November.
Reagan famously urged listeners in 1983 "to beware the temptation ... to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire." Thirty-five years later, those words are again worth heeding.
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