Countering Putin begins with knowing what his regime is saying
By Stephen Blank, Glen Howard, Enders S. Wimbush and Paul Goble
Recent media accounts have argued that the U.S. government suffers from an absence of high-quality expertise on Russia. These accounts correctly note that funding for careers to ensure career opportunities for a continuing flow of people interested in Russia has dried up as well as the quantitative as well as qualitative lack of capable analysts. Undoubtedly we suffer from a shortage of funding and of professional interest in Russia, which is widely regarded as a busted flush of little account despite Ukraine and Syria. This shortage tallies with the president and his administration’s view that Russia is a declining regional power. Yet, as we have seen reality continues to belie such shortsighted thinking, particularly when it comes to the information battlefield and America’s struggle to contest Russian dominance in the weaponization of information used by the Kremlin against the United States and NATO.
Moreover, the shortage of informed expertise transcends our borders. The House of Lords’ scathing 2014 report attacked the UK’s demolition of its Russian expertise and that Britain has sleepwalked through the crisis leading to the invasion of Ukraine. French analysts tell a similar story in France. In addition one NATO spokesman observed after Turkey shot down a Russian Fighter in November 2015, that NATO had believed its own propaganda about Russia and now had to wake up from this self-imposed dream. Likewise, General Phillip Breedlove (SACEUR and USAF) has often publicly decried NATO’s lack of intelligence capabilities in the field and in general regarding Russia. Meanwhile U.S. commanders in Europe encounter the same problems and are thus regularly surprised by Russian exercises and operations.
Blank is senior fellow with the American Foreign Policy Council. Howard is president of the Jamestown Foundation. Wimbush is distinguished fellow with the Jamestown Foundation. Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnicity and religion in the former Soviet space.