We are engaged in World War III. Vladimir Putin go the drop on us, organizing a disinformation campaign that has allowed nationalists throughout the Western World to rise to prominence, undermining Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign by releasing hacked documents to support the Republican contention that she was unable to secure secrets.
Russia’s leading opposition figure released a video that both documents the luxurious lifestyle and the ownership structure that allows Putin’s inner circle to protect the wealth they have embezzled from the Russian people. The production include footage from drones flying over huge compounds owned by Putin’s second-in-command, Dmitry Medvedev, a man whose government salary is less than the U.S. President’s.
I don’t think that I need to make any claims regarding the source of this information. It’s almost certainly a tit-for-tat by our intelligence services.
In the last year of his term, the Obama Administration leveled a $700 million fine against DeutscheBank for facilitating embezzlement by Russian officials. Donald Trump netted nearly $60 million through the sale of an estate in Florida to a Russian kleptocrat. The key question in this war is whether American’s intelligence services have the means to hack the hidden accounts to drain away the funds, or means through financial accountability laws to freeze the assets.
If Vladimir Putin had a significant portion of his personal wealth seized by foreign governments, would he respond with a nuclear counter-strike?
It’s hard to judge. The similarities between Putin and Russia’s last strongman, Josef Stalin, are eerie. Stalin, too, sent state security agents around the world to assassinate actual and supposed enemies.
Stalin set the terms of the Russian campaign to build nuclear weapons. The program was driven by terrifying threats against failure, leading to short-cuts that left massive environmental degradation around many of the facilities. Russia eventually created a hydrogen bomb capable of vaporizing everything within a ten-mile radius of the explosion, with a 100-mile-wide fireball.
Stalin was motivated by threats against the Soviet system on his own territory, and may have seen nuclear weapons simply as a protection against invasion. Putin, however, feels free to cross international borders to achieve his domestic and foreign policy aims. Would he honor the constraints recognized by Stalin?
If he does, this war will proceed much as did WW II following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Better, it will progress at internet speed. Putin has already seized two of Russian’s most senior information security officers, presumably believing that they were responsible for some of the information that appeared in the US intelligence briefing on Russian intervention in the presidential election. Given that Putin has engaged in a war with an invisible enemy pushing photons down optical cables, this kind of paranoid response is going to run out of control. While Putin is decimating the ranks of his information security office, the US side will tighten control over technical secrets at its facilities, preventing any future WikiLeaks releases, and focus narrowly on the weaknesses of Russian cybersystems.
Putin may rely on couriers to run the country, but you can’t move money and conduct cyber warfare by those means. His international web of criminal terror will be strangled.