There is hardly a U.S. news story which does not touch on Russia. Russia is everywhere, from the impeachment inquiry and election interference to the conflict in Syria.
The reason is because, under KGB-operative-in-the-Kremlin Vladimir Putin’s leadership, the Kremlin has been mounting a Russia-resurgent strategy for two decades.
Moscow is gaining influence in the Middle East due to its military support for Syria’s ruthless dictator, Bashar Assad. Russia has skin in the game, which means it has become a key power broker among the many nations — including Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Israel — vying for influence in the region.
Russia is also gaining influence in Africa. Gen. Thomas D. Waldhauser, former head of the U.S. Africa Command, earlier this year warned Congress that, with minimal investment, Russia has used private military contractors to persuade Central African Republic President Faustin-Archange Touadera to appoint, as the general noted, “a Russian civilian as his national security adviser.” Russia is now spreading its influence throughout the country.
Gen. Waldhauser also warned of a growing Russian presence in other African nations including Angola, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Sudan and Tunisia and, to a lesser extent, Algeria and Sudan. Moscow is offering aid in exchange for lucrative mineral rights and energy partnerships
Russia also is cementing control over its regional sphere of influence closer to home. Here Mr. Putin’s goals are different. Whereas Russia targets the Middle East and Africa with economic predation, Mr. Putin’s primary concern on Russia’s borders is pro-Western governments seeking closer collaboration with the European Union and NATO.
Independent since 1991, Moldova in recent years has implemented democratic and market reforms, drawing it closer to the EU and away from the Kremlin. The 2016 election of pro-Russian President Igor Dodon altered the zero-sum game. Mr. Dodon wrested power away from his pro-Western prime minister, Maia Sandu, and silenced pro-democracy voices. He vowed to bring back propaganda machines, a throwback to Soviet information control within Moldovan borders.
Mr. Dodon is also reversing the pro-Western policies of Vladimir Plahotniuc, the powerful former first deputy speaker of Moldova’s Parliament and chairman of the Democratic Party of Moldova. Mr. Plahotniuc has been subjected to character assassination and was forced to flee the country out of fear for his family’s safety.
Another Russian neighbor, Ukraine, has also found itself in Mr. Putin’s sights. Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, provided military support to pro-Russian separatists, and sent its own soldiers and military intelligence officers to fight in eastern Ukraine.
One common thread in Mr. Putin’s strategy is to exploit corruption in foreign states. There is an ongoing struggle, which Russia is seeking to influence, for Ukraine’s democratic and economic future. The fate of Ukraine’s Privatbank, which notorious oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky looted, is the canary in Ukraine’s coal mine. Russia’s interests would be best served if new President Volodymyr Zelensky fails to support Valeria Gontareva, the former head of the National Bank of Ukraine, who nationalized Privatbank and has been the target of Mafia-style intimidation.
The Russian bear might have been sleeping under President Boris Yeltsin’s wobbly leadership during the 1990s, but as Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney presciently warned in 2012, Russia has been most often part of the problem in recent years, rather than a country with which the U.S. could work to solve global challenges.
Russia’s Soviet-style throwback revisionism isn’t like a fine wine getting better with age. The U.S. needs a 21st century Russia strategy focused on strengthening NATO, supporting countries such as Moldova and Ukraine, and containing Russia’s nefarious influence in the Middle East and Africa. The longer we wait, the more aggressive Mr. Putin will maneuver on the world stage, simultaneously reducing the space for finding any common ground on the big issues of bilateral interest such as arms control, to the detriment of U.S. national security.
• Daniel N. Hoffman is a retired clandestine services officer and former chief of station with the Central Intelligence Agency. His combined 30 years of government service included high-level overseas and domestic positions at the CIA. He has been a Fox News contributor since May 2018. Follow him on Twitter @DanielHoffmanDC.