Against all odds: Why Putin is winning

Russia is using a not-so-secret weapon that has flipped Western notions of strength and weakness on their head. If trends continue, the U.S. could be faced with the terrible choice of losing its credibility as a conventional ally and a strategic nuclear power or overreacting in order to prevent such a loss.

Kremlin strongman Vladimir Putin’s orchestration of the Ukraine crisis, and the U.S. and Europe’s response to it, have set the stage for further actions that could threaten the expanded NATO alliance itself.

Paul A. Goble, considered the dean of American experts on the different nationalities of what Russia regards as its rightful space, warns that a small, newer NATO ally could be next.

With a near-fully modernized strategic nuclear arsenal to give teeth to his iron will, Putin is using a low-cost, high-impact weapon against which the West has built no effective defense: political and economic subversion.

The KGB excelled at political and economic subversion, and Putin built his career practicing both. He ran hard-currency operations for the KGB in St. Petersburg before moving to the Kremlin to run then-president Boris Yeltsin’s Presidential Property Administration, from which he maneuvered to take control of the secret police section of the old KGB and, ultimately, taking power from Yeltsin himself. He then ensured that he would face no credible political rival.

Externally, Putin has intervened in the internal politics of former Soviet-occupied countries, rewarding pliant dictators in Belarus and Central Asia, protecting isolated Armenia from its unfriendly neighbors, dismembering independent-minded small countries like the republic of Georgia, and apparently attempting to assassinate pro-western leaders like former Ukrainian prime minister and future president Viktor Yushchenko.

Left permanently disfigured by the 2004 dioxin poisoning, Yushchenko was an arch-rival of Putin ally Viktor Yanukovych, whose ouster in a popular revolution earlier this year prompted Moscow’s seizure of the Crimea and subversion across eastern Ukraine.

Dangerous to be a Putin critic

Putin has made it dangerous to be a serious critic. Few journalists whose job is to cover Russia can examine him seriously if they wish to survive professionally – if at all. Radio Liberty correspondent David Satter, an American who has reported from Moscow for decades, was recently banned from Russia. Satter’s American citizenship arguably saved him.

Putin has not been so soft toward his own countrymen. Russian journalists, members of parliament, and even former KGB colleagues who exposed Putin’s power tactics have had unusually high mortality rates. For the rest of the article, click here to