Russian meddling in American elections is a venerable tradition. In 1968, Soviet agents approached Vice President Hubert Humphrey’s campaign to offer clandestine aid. The ardent Cold War liberal refused. During the early 1980s, the KGB energetically, but futilely, spread propaganda and disinformation aimed at damaging President Ronald Reagan’s political standing.
Despite these precedents, the Russian involvement in the 2016 election is actually the opposite of history repeating itself. During the Cold War, the USSR intervened to preserve the international order and prevent the ascension of Richard Nixon and then Reagan, men it perceived as erratic, perhaps irrational. In 2016, however, Russia worked to elect an erratic, perhaps irrational, American president in hope of shaking up the international order.
The explanation for this dramatic reversal lies in a transformation of the power structure in the Kremlin. Put simply, the foreign policy elites are out and the spies are in.
The Russian foreign policy elite has long been a refuge for some of the most liberal, cosmopolitan and educated elements of society. Foreign policy experts and diplomats, the so-called mezhdunarodniki (internationalists), made up the backbone of the liberal wing of the Communist Party. These cadres were trained in the many elite institutes and research centers that sprang up as the Cold War turned into a battle of diplomacy and living standards rather than military force. By the late-1960s, Soviet foreign policymakers had studied not only Marxist-Leninist dogma,…
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