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John Blankley Don’t lose focus on Russian threat

August 28, 2018

The criminality surrounding President Donald Trump involving tax fraud and election finance felonies is bad enough but we must not let the headlines divert our attention from a much greater concern: Russian influence on the 2016 election and the clear signs that they are planning the same again this November. Inexplicably the Republican-dominated Congress seems oblivious to these attacks on our democratic process, refusing to fund more protective initiatives. What about the constitutional oath to protect and defend the constitution and the country?

We need our leaders to understand history, to see clearly who are our friends and who are our adversaries in this world. Poignantly, John McCain saw this very clearly.

Let me confess my bias on matters Russian. Brought up in England and educated at Oxford, where I studied history, I was steeped in the great themes of British foreign policy, one of which was the containment of the “Russian Bear.” From the Crimean war of the 1850s to Churchill’s support of White Russians against the Red army in the early 1920s and the drawing of an “Iron Curtain” across Europe, the threat of Russian expansionism was a constant concern. This extended even to the fear that “The Jewel in the Crown” of Britain’s imperial power, India, would be the target of Russian military might. And here in my adopted country we waged a “Cold War” for decades against these same Russians.

I have a personal memory of Russian aggression: this very month marks the 50th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and the crushing of the “Prague Spring.” Holidaying in August 1968 on the Belgian coast with Vera, my wife to be, we woke one day to hear that Russian tanks were in the streets of Prague, a mere 400 miles away. I feel the shock of this news and the sense of imminent threat to this day.

Not many years later a young Russian KGB apparatchik was put in charge of Soviet intelligence in the old (so-called) German Democratic Republic. That, of course, was Vladimir Putin — a man who says the worst event of his life was the dismantling of the old Soviet Union.

The USSR is gone but the old Russia remains, led by Putin, a modern dictator who murders dissidents, political opponents and journalists and does so even in the country of my birth with the poisoning of former intelligence officers. The Russians are a lesser military power today but exert influence in other, more modern ways, to undermine our country and sow dissention between us and our NATO allies.

The threats now are as much internal as they are external: the Manchurian candidate now in the White House, the new tools of social media, the pandering of the president’s party to a man clearly in the thrall of the Russian dictator.

Although safe from their tanks, here in the United States, I see Russians intent on subverting our precious democracy, taking advantage of our perverse blindness to danger, led as we are by a man oblivious of history supported by a political base that cares not for its lessons.

So I say, when you vote this November, do not of course forget the crimes which are now being exposed at the highest levels of our government but remember above all the threat to our very institutions from the Russians and their political puppets here at home.

John Blankley is a former member of the Town of Greenwich’s finance board and was an executive at several oil and gas companies.