The Russian Federation is unusual in that its full and formal name makes no use of the word ‘Republic’. In this, it is essentially alone in European nations. We have the Republic of France, the Italian Republic, the Federal Republic of Germany, but no ‘Russian Republic’. It also, however, does not fall in to the classic trope of falsely calling itself a democracy, like the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It stands alone, making no use of such noble terms. This is appropriate, because modern Russia in all things is blatantly and happily wrong in most of its stances. It invades a foreign country and pretends it didn’t. It assassinates spies and suggests that they were set up. It offers the façade of democratic elections while rigging them in plain sight. It makes sense that all this starts with their name.
Modern Russia is a difficult country to understand, because it has almost no right to act as it does. It is not the most powerful country on earth. Realistically, it can perhaps crack top five, depending on how heavily you weigh military might in terms of power. It should not be able to enjoy huge liberties in the way it does, but Putin’s Russia have clued onto a troublesome fact: nobody is going to stop them, so long as they pretend everything is fine and ordinary. As such, Russia executes actions of extraordinary violence while making it look like the worst they did was maybe insult a minor ambassador. Russia did annex the Crimea, but they did it with such ease and lack of threat, that reacting to it is difficult. After all, if Europe or America were to react aggressively, Russia would claim to be the defendant, as they are doing right now with the Salisbury incident. So nobody really reacts. Most recently, President Putin has very obviously and clearly forged an election. We have many videos of ballot stuffing, of convenient camera obstructions, of people voting five or ten times. There is literally no doubt that Putin fixed this election. But Russia keeps a calm face, and says the election was carried out fairly. They dare somebody to challenge them, and nobody will. We will grumble, we will call it ridiculous, but we will not stop them. Russia is like a perverse, giant Loki; he will trick anyone and anything with glee, because he knows he can get away with it.
Of course, the real issue is that Russia is not a harmless trickster, but rather a trickster with multiple weapons of mass destruction. Russia holds the same trump card the West does, in that if someone does finally, truly, call them out on their lies, they can be destroyed. Like we saw before with the Cold War, Russia is playing against the US and the West, seeing just how far MAD theory will go. Of course, for all our sakes, we must hope that it goes a little further, but this is how Russia will continue to play us. Russia can trick, not because of any real political or economic power, but because it has the means to destroy us all. Therein lies the problem.
So what can be done about it? Well, as the West keeps demonstrating, very little. The Russian people are unlikely to rise up, as the majority are taught that Russia deserves its place at the highest table, and that the West is simply seeking to limit them. There is some unrest, but it is well managed, and does not appear to be a direct threat. We cannot attack, at risk of all our demises. Instead, we must sit and hope that something within changes. Economic collapse could strike again. Putin could die and be replaced with a Gorbachev-like figure. The country may yet come to its senses. But for now, it can and will play this dangerous game, in which either they win, or we all die.