By Maggie Chapin
With the investigation into Russia’s interference in the election still ongoing, Vladimir Putin and his country are on many American’s minds. Enter Julia Ioffe, self-proclaimed “Russian Lady” and journalist for the Atlantic, who spent a five-year stint in Russia covering politics. On Thursday the 5th, Ioffe gave a presentation to Willamette students in an effort to clarify Putin’s intent for Russia in regard to the U.S. and its role on the world stage.
She began the presentation with a list of five major events that influenced the current political structure of Russia as well as the mindsets of many Russians, including the Bolshevik Revolution and the 25th anniversary of the collapse of the USSR. These two events caused not only the disintegration of the government, but also the collapse of the economy and a loss in Russian identity. After the downfall of the USSR, with the country in shambles, Putin rose to power. He immediately began to advocate for a change in the architecture of global authority, demanding that his country be consulted on major issues, reflecting Russia’s disdain at being ignored and unrecognized for the world power it believes it is. Through the years he has continued this approach, creating problems throughout the world, such as in Syria, making it necessary for his consultation in order to fix them.
Although Putin came into power as Russia began to lean towards a more democratic state, he held to his belief that democracy is equivalent to chaos and that corrupt regimes are more stable overall. Consequently, the constitution was changed to a six-year presidential term with little debate, and Putin announced his third run for president in 2011, which at the time was not allowed. During the election, obvious cases of ballot stuffing and carousel voting were recorded, leading to large protests that unnerved Putin. Putin suspected U.S. involvement because, as Ioffe explained, he also believes that the U.S. is involved in the spread of democracy, and that the CIA is pushing American ideals onto other countries, creating governments that are sympathetic to the U.S. government.
These ideals, he believes, will push him out of office, or result in his death. The numerous protests in Ukraine and surrounding countries, as well as the deaths of Sadam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi (men he identified with), have only increased his fear of a similar fate.
Due to this suspicion of U.S. involvement in multiple countries’ uprising, Putin didn’t see the problem in meddling in our elections as well. Why Putin decided to tamper in favor of Trump is another issue; Putin saw Hillary Clinton as a war-monger, whereas Trump was seen as a potential ally.
Although the damage from Russia’s meddling has already been done and the election is long over, we must continue to search for the true depth of Russian involvement. We must also look at Russia’s own future elections and how their outcomes will affect the U.S.’s relationship with it.
In 2018, Putin is up for re-election. With control of the government and the media outlets and without any real opposition, he will most certainly win. How will the Russian people react to his fourth presidential term? Will Putin attempt to interfere with U.S. elections a second time? What will happen in 2024 when Putin is up for re-election at the age of 72? These questions can only be answered with time, but in the meanwhile, an understanding of Russia’s motives can help the U.S. prepare accordingly.