The U.S. is ill-equipped to counter the increasingly brazen political warfare Russia is waging to undermine democracies, the Pentagon and independent strategists warn in a detailed assessment that happens to echo much bipartisan criticism of President Donald Trump’s approach to Moscow.
The more than 150-page white paper, prepared for the Joint Chiefs of Staff and shared with POLITICO,says the U.S. is still underestimating the scope of Russia’s aggression, which includes the use of propaganda and disinformation to sway public opinion across Europe, Central Asia, Africa and Latin America. The study also points to the dangers of a growing alignment between Russia and China, which share a fear of the United States’ international alliances and an affinity for “authoritarian stability.”
Its authors contend that disarray at home is hampering U.S. efforts to respond — saying America lacks the kind of compelling “story” it used to win the Cold War.
The study doesn’t offer any criticisms of Trump, but it comes amid continued chaffing by security hawks in both parties who have objected to the president’s repeated slights at U.S. alliances in Europe and Asia, public affection for authoritarian leaders like Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un, and his habit of scoffing at the evidence that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. A grinning Trump added to that pattern Friday in Osaka, Japan, where he got a chuckle out of Putin by admonishing him, “Don’t meddle in the election, president.”
In interviews with POLITICO, other Russia watchers supported the report’s warnings that the U.S. needs to up its game.
“Russia is attacking Western institutions in ways more shrewd and strategically discreet than many realize,” said Natalia Arno, president of the Free Russia Foundation, an anti-Putin Washington think tank that recently completed its own study of Russian efforts to undermine the West. “The attacks may seem more subtle and craftier, but they are every bit as destructive as governments are influenced, laws are changed, legal decisions are undermined, law enforcement is thwarted and military intervention is disguised.”