An assassination attempt on John Bolton in DC; a knife attack on author Salman Rushdie in New York City: Is Iran following Putin’s playbook?
Russian President Vladimir Putin didn’t decide to invade Ukraine on a whim.
Russian military and intelligence forces, as well as the Russian government, had been carrying out attacks against the Ukraine for over a decade before February 2022. Infrastructure attacks, election interference, social media influence campaigns, propaganda, hacking, clandestine military campaigns; modern warfare is like an iceberg, military might is just the spear tip.
The battlefield is everywhere.
And that certainly includes the internet, public online forums, social media platforms, and media outlets.
In February of 2022, Vladimir Putin saw an opportunity to carry out the next, most drastic step in his ultimate plan to annex the nation by force.
This was the step he wouldn’t be able to hide and Putin would need to wait for the perfect opportunity to strike. Lest we forget, Vladimir Putin vehemently denied having any intention whatsoever of invading Ukraine until he absolutely couldn’t possibly lie any more.
“Training exercises,” was the reason for all those Russian military units moving into formation and how dare anyone suggest otherwise. Even as U.S. President Joe Biden warned the world of an imminent attack, Putin openly scoffed at the idea.
In that, the actual military part of the invasion, the final step, was much like all the stealthier steps before.
“No, the Russian government was not behind that high-profile hacking of critical Ukrainian infrastructure and systems,” was Putin’s go-to excuse: “Could have been anyone.”
“No, Russia didn’t dose that political dissenter with a rare and deadly radioactive poison we have bragged of using in the past.”
Unlike the previous decades of a sort-of proxy warfare against Ukraine, giving Putin the thinnest veneer of respectability on the world stage, on the flimsiest possible reed of plausible deniability, using Russian military force in Ukraine was bound to draw notice, condemnation, and perhaps worse from the European Union and United States.
Putin had been waiting for an opportunity to take Ukraine for over a decade; COVID19 gave him that opportunity.
COVID19 weakened the economies of Putin’s erstwhile strongest geopolitical opponents- very badly. It wearied their populations, strained by 2.5+ and counting years of pandemic living, and the economic fallout thereto.
The pandemic revealed and reinforced absolutely no public taste whatsoever for endless, expensive, often unsuccessful foreign wars at the moment, thank you very much- especially considering the sacrifices Americans and other global consumers have already made in terms of higher fuel prices due to the conflict in Ukraine.
Even better, from Putin’s perspective: Most of the politicians currently running the governments of his biggest geopolitical opponents are democratically elected and will soon have to face their voters.
These are voters who, it must be acknowledged, are furious at paying 10%, 20%, 30%, 40% and even 50% more for goods and services than they did only two years ago. They can’t punish Vladimir Putin. Considering the minimal impact of recent sanctions and embargoes, it isn’t clear who can at this point.
The voters certainly can’t punish the coronavirus; but they can punish their elected officials, who will almost certainly be scapegoated for all of the above, plus wrongs real and imagined.
Given these realities, time is on Vladimir Putin’s side. All he has to do is wait.
China and India more than made up for any losses all those sanctions and embargoes might have caused. The ruble is stronger than ever. Putin has his boot on the throat of German energy consumers, who will be getting 20% of what they were getting last year and have been warned by the German government to chop firewood and insulate “warm rooms” in the center of their homes in advance of what will almost certainly be a killing winter.
As disgusting as it is, Putin is holding all the cards. He seems to have played his hand at the right time. The arc of the moral universe is long, and in the end it is said to bend towards justice. Someday, Putin may be deposed, tried. He may eventually suffer greatly for his aggression in Ukraine.
For now, however, his gamble appears to have paid off.
The question isn’t what to do about Vladimir Putin; short of mustering an allied military force, there isn’t anything to do about him.
The real question is who, besides Putin, is likely to be looking at the chess board of the world- COVID19, the impact it has had on nations and global economies, how it has undermined cooperatives like the European Union and the United States- and preparing to strike while the iron is hot.
All eyes have turned towards Xi Jinping, the Chinese Communist Party and its well-known designs on Taiwan. It’s no secret North Korea wants very much to invade South Korea. In both cases flows that same undercurrent of information warfare, tampering, hacking, and election interference so familiar to Ukrainians.
Iran is another nation likely to take advantage of a world still weakened by COVID19.
The recent plot to assassinate former U.S. national security advisor John Bolton in Washington, D.C. was orchestrated by Iran’s government. Though the plot was foiled, the assassin came uncomfortably close to Bolton, even having detailed information about his schedule and movements.
On Friday, author Salman Rushdie, was rushed by an attacker who stabbed him as he took the stage to give a lecture. Rushdie’s alleged attacker was subdued by members of the audience and arrested by police- though it’s possible he has been released by now in advance of his trial thanks to New York’s bail reform laws, depending on the accused’s previous record.
Rushdie was rushed into surgery and is expected to survive, though he was stabbed in the liver and will apparently lose one eye.
Rushdie has been living under an order of execution issued by Iran’s government since 1989. He spent over a decade in hiding at one point. A bounty of millions remains on his head to this day.
Have the Ayatollahs of Iran finally got their man? Or, like Vladimir Putin’s critics who somehow have fallen mysteriously ill and died, is Rushdie’s attack totally unrelated, just a huge coincidence?
Iran needs to be under increased scrutiny at this time, especially after the Bolton incident, which was certainly state-sanctioned by the rulers of Iran, and the Rushdie attack, which almost certainly was.
With hyper-vigilance, and no small amount of preventative action, the world might yet avoid another Ukraine.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)