Russian President Vladimir Putin cares a lot about what you think -- about NSA contractor-turned-defector and Russian asylum seeker Edward Snowden, and pretty much everything else -- to the point of spending $300 million of state funds last year on the external audiovisual service RT, designed primarily to spoonfeed the Kremlin worldview to a global audience. And unearthed records show that's just the tip of a much more insidious iceberg.
Why, you might ask, would an iron-fisted authoritarian care about what the masses outside of his own country think? Well, if Russia can convince you, as a Westerner, to focus on critiquing your own government, you'll be less inclined to criticize the geopolitical competition. The greatest strengths of a democracy -- free speech and opposition to power -- are also weaknesses ripe for subversion and exploitation by a competitor who seeks to divide and conquer as a means of gaining a competitive advantage. And yet attempts at free speech and opposition to power in Russia put citizens at risk of being either imprisoned or liquidated.
And the double standards don't end there. Putin is cracking down on non-governmental organizations, raiding the offices of those who receive foreign funding, treating them as if their sole purpose is to act as a subversive foreign agent to undermine his authority. Meanwhile, he's infiltrating American media and political institutions.
Putin uses his propaganda apparatus to endlessly chastise Western nations for meddling in Syria, Cyprus and other nations over which Russia formerly enjoyed unfettered influence. The narrative is always the same: The United States and its allies won't keep their hands to themselves, while Russia minds its own business.
Except that it doesn't.
There are three types of intelligence operations: overt, covert and clandestine. "Overt" is blowing up a bridge outright. "Covert" is blowing up a bridge and obfuscating responsibility. "Clandestine" is when the bridge conveniently falls down in what appears to be an accident. Former KGB chief Putin tends to favor the latter two.
Here's a Russian operation that falls into the "covert" category: