How Russia’s campaign to undermine democracies threatens the European Union and the United States.
In a hard-hitting analysis of current events, Snyder (History/Yale Univ.; On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, 2017, etc.) argues persuasively that Russia under Putin is aggressively working to destabilize Western nations and export “massive inequality” and “the displacement of policy by propaganda.” Beginning with the strenuous revival of totalitarian thought in 2011, Russia has widened its efforts to attack the EU and to infiltrate American politics by masterminding the election of Donald Trump. For Russia, the EU, which requires that its member countries are democratic and promote human rights, exists as an affront to its “native kleptocracy.” Because “Russian state power could not increase, nor Russian technology close the gap with Europe and America,” writes the author, it sought to gain “relative power” by weakening other nations. Using targeted Twitter campaigns, trolls, and bots, Russia manipulated a “leave” vote in the Brexit referendum and later directed its attention to working against Emmanuel Macron in France and Angela Merkel in Germany. Snyder chronicles Putin’s successful influence in Trump’s nomination and election: “a cyberwar to destroy the United States of America.” Russian connections to Trump began in the 1990s, when Russian gangsters laundered money by buying and selling apartments in Trump Tower. Trump, who at the time was bankrupt and owed about $4 billion to more than 70 banks, welcomed funds from Russian oligarchs, who bought his properties through shell companies. The author expertly details Russian involvement in the 2016 election by Paul Manafort, who “had experience getting Russia’s preferred candidates elected president”; Trump’s foreign policy adviser, pro-Putin Carter Page, who became a lobbyist for Russian gas companies; and Michael Flynn. Russian use of Twitter, Facebook, and other internet sources “exploited American gullibility” and cynicism. Freedom, Snyder writes, “depends upon citizens who are able to make a distinction between what is true and what they want to hear.”
A highly distressing, urgent alarm to awaken Americans to the peril of authoritarianism.