Allegations that the Russian government tried to influence America’s election are extraordinarily serious — “the political equivalent to 9/11,” according to Michael Morell, the former acting director of the CIA.
The coming congressional investigation should be bipartisan and bicameral, and should focus not just on the election allegations but also on the threat Russian President Vladimir Putin poses to geopolitical stability. This is especially important now that President-elect Donald Trump has repeatedly signaled his intent to reset relations with Russia — something the administrations of both George W. Bush and Barack Obama tried to limited degrees.
“We have stabilized Europe since the end of World War II first by establishing NATO and encouraging the growth of the European Union and then by winning the Cold War,” John E. Herbst, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, told an editorial writer. “... The free part of Europe that has democracy and an open society and an open economy has moved steadily eastward. This has led to unprecedented stability in the world because Europe is a place of peace, and led to unprecedented prosperity which has been very good for the United States. Mr. Putin wants to destroy that Europe.”
In fact, he’s attempted to destroy it through force. That was evident first in Georgia in 2008 and in 2014 with Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and thinly veiled military campaign in eastern Ukraine. It should not be forgotten that when the Soviet Union dissolved — a liberation of millions that Putin once called the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the [20th] century” — Ukraine was a major nuclear weapons power, but gave up its arsenal with guarantees of its sovereignty. Allowing Russia to then cleave a portion of the country with impunity is the wrong signal to send to Iran, North Korea and other nations amid rising concerns about proliferating nuclear weapons.
Russia risks other armed confrontations by engaging in military provocations throughout Europe. And Moscow has meddled in other European democracies, too, as it seeks to upend the postwar liberal order in part by abetting populist revolts that result in illiberal leaders who are skeptical, or even hostile, to Western institutions designed for continental cohesion and to counter Soviet, and now Russian, aggression.
Moscow’s malevolence extends beyond Europe. Putin’s immoral enabling of the Bashar Assad regime in Syria — which is widely accused of having committed war crimes — has led to extraordinary suffering by millions. Further, the carnage contributes to the Mediterranean migration crisis that exacerbates the European political upheaval Putin seeks.
On the other end of the world, Putin has aggressively asserted Russian claims to the resource-rich Arctic, which presents another sphere of potential confrontation with Western powers. And of course, Russia remains a nuclear weapons superpower, let alone an increasingly irresponsible cyber-weapons power, too.
The U.S. should seek peaceful relations with Russia. But Congress, Trump and the American people should not dismiss the election allegations as a partisan issue, nor should they fail to recognize the direct threat that Russian aggression poses to the global order.