2 American academics and policymakers are a different story. Among academics, most leading authorities, whatever their assessments of the Kremlin’s depravity—from je-vous-ai-compris Stephen Cohen to they-be-evil Stephen Kotkin—still tend to counsel a “realistic” approach to Russia when they make public pronouncements. With policymakers, on the one hand, there is a loose alliance between neoconservatives and liberal internationalists, who are invariably hostile to the Kremlin, and on the other hand, realists of various stripes who eschew moralism when dealing with Russia, and counsel against ultimatums in favor of negotiations. The Trump administration’s new point person on Russian affairs, Fiona Hill, is the coauthor of an extended biography of Putin, Mr. Putin, which portrays him as a neo-Soviet statist parachuted into the present. Hill is likely to be one of the last chief Russia hands to privilege the pre-Revolutionary and Soviet past in her interpretation of Russia—she wrote her dissertation under Richard Pipes on the return of repressed pre-1917 thought and ideals in 1990s Russia. One might expect Russian policymakers of the future—those born after the Cold War—to be less instinctively antagonistic toward Russia, but this is likely an illusion. The batch of experts currently in the making may well come to see Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election as the most salient connection between the area of their expertise and the public interest. In other words, Russia is unlikely to become a dispassionate subject of study any sooner than Israel. For an incisive prosopography of America’s Russia hands, see Keith Gessen, “The Quiet Americans behind the U.S.-Russia Imbroglio,” New York Times Magazine, May 8, 2018.
3 My point is not that Russia did not interfere with the American presidential election of 2016—all the evidence suggests that it did. Nor is it much of an excuse to claim that the United States has regularly meddled in Russian elections, most notably the 1996 election of Yeltsin, which probably would have gone to the Communist Gennady Andreyevich Zyuganov. Rather, the point is simply that while much evidence remains to be discovered, it is virtually indisputable that the Russian interference did not significantly or decisively alter the results of the election in favor of Trump, and that liberal outrage has exaggerated the scale of the Russian threat, which is what the bots want.
4 Putin publicly came out against the intervention, lambasting it as “a medieval call to the Crusades,” but Medvedev was permitted, or able, to not veto the intervention in the UN out of the general hope of a “reset” with the Obama administration. Obama now regrets “failing to plan the day after” of the Libya intervention as “probably” his worst mistake as president.
5 Another example of an imitation democracy becoming seemingly more democratic happened in the Gambia in 2017. The authoritarian leader of twenty-one years, Yahya Jammeh, accidentally lost the election by not rigging it properly. At first he said he would accept defeat, but subsequently contested the result until he was forced to concede it all over again, then he fled into exile in Equatorial Guinea where he awaits extradition by the regime that succeeded him.